The higher salaries of some 400 public servants will cost the county an extra $750,000 a year.
The pay raises will take effect immediately, however. So an additional $140,000 is needed to cover the pay raises through June 30, when the current fiscal year ends.
Raises will apply across the spectrum, from the sheriff’s deputies, transit drivers and landfill workers on the bottom rung of the pay ladder, to managers making six figures.
Raises were not applied uniformly across the board, however. Some employees were deemed underpaid for their position compared to similarly sized counties, according to the results of a pay study.
Those employees got bumps to bring them in line with the going rate for their job title, as deemed by the pay study conducted by an outside consulting firm. Any county worker who didn’t get a bump under the pay study got a 2 percent cost of living raise.
“They want to get at least a fair wage,” said County Manager Jack Horton, who recommended that commissioners adopt the new pay plan. “Our salaries are too low.”
A few county employees will see annual raises as high 20 to 40 percent as a result of the pay plan, while more than half of employees will receive about a 10 percent boost in pay, according to Commissioner Paul Higdon.
Higdon thought raises of that magnitude for public employees were exorbitant during a recession and voted against the plan.
“It’s not practical,” Higdon said.
Horton has assured commissioners that implementing the plan would not raise taxes. He said county revenues have been on the incline and a recent refinancing of loans has freed up extra county funds thanks to lower interest rates.
Horton also argued with Higdon that a $10 per hour worker receiving a 10 percent increase was only $1 more per hour.
“People don’t spend percentages; they spend dollars,” Horton said.
Yet, Commissioner Ron Haven, who also voted against the measure, questioned why some of the money, saved through refinancing loans and extra revenue gains, had to be spent right away and couldn’t be returned to taxpayers. Currently, Macon County has one of the lowest property tax rates in the state.
“I’d like to see (the residents) get some of the money back,” Haven said.
Holes were also poked in the methodology surrounding the study, which compared Macon County employees’ wages to other counties and municipalities. Many of the localities used to make the comparison were either far away geographically or had a different economic reality than Macon County, argued Higdon.
However, the complaints from the two more conservative members of the board were not enough to overcome support for the payment plan and the roomful of public workers who attended the vote.
Commission Chairman Kevin Corbin said he thought of himself as a fiscal conservative as well but had no problem with approving what he saw as just compensation for the county’s workers. Although incremental raises have been given during the years, a comprehensive pay plan, assessing minimum pay grades, had not been enacted in the county for more than a decade.
“I have no problem with it — bringing it up to the minimum,” Corbin said.