County Weighing More Employee Pay Raises

SNOW HILL — Facing a roughly $7 million shortfall heading into budget season, most members of the Worcester County Commission say they want to wait until the end of the process before making decisions on whether or not county employees will receive another raise this year. However, Commissioner Jim Bunting revealed that his mind is already made up: he will not be voting for a pay raise. < ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office">

“I don’t mind saying how I feel; I will oppose any pay increases,” he said this week. “I tried to stop it last year. I didn’t think it was the right time or the proper thing to do.”

Last year all county employees received a 2-percent pay increase, the first they had gotten in three years. On the table this year is a similar raise, currently proposed at 2.5 percent. While most of his colleagues are playing their cards close to the vest regarding the possibility of a raise, Bunting was quick to reiterate his stance from last year where he was one of only two commissioners to vote against the budget.

Besides the 2-percent pay raise for employees, Worcester also increased property taxes last year for the first time in nearly a decade. It’s the possibility of higher taxes helping to pay for a salary increase again that Bunting said he will vote against aggressively. With the raise from last year especially, he argued that Worcester employees have strong salaries as is.

“To give raises to people who make pretty high salaries, we’re pretty high pay all of our employees, and they’re all good employees,” said Bunting, “but they all make good salaries and have a great benefits package.”

Commissioner Judy Boggs isn’t willing to make a vote yet on a possible employee raise. However, she is adamant that another property tax increase is unacceptable this year.

“We raised the taxes last year 7 cents for the first time in I think nine years even through the downturn in the economy and we are not going to raise taxes again,” she said.

After having drawn the line in the sand, Boggs clarified and said that she personally would not vote for a tax raise this year while acknowledging that she has no control over the votes of her six fellow commissioners. If it is possible to balance the budget without a tax increase while including an employee pay bump, Boggs said she would be open to the idea.

“I would love to give them a raise but I don’t know if it’s possible,” she said. “What I feel and what I would like to do are sometimes not the same. And I’m not one of those who finds it real easy to spend someone else’s money.”

Commissioner Virgil Shockley, the only other commissioner to vote against last year’s budget with Bunting, was also hesitant to take a hard position on the raises with so much accounting left to be done and state costs unclear.

“Until I get a real number coming out of Annapolis, I don’t have a clue as to what we’ve got,” he said.

 Shockley expects a “real number” around May 10 and only after that would he be willing to say “if there’s any chance there’s going to be any kind of raises.”

Shockley said that Snow Hill High School renovations not being included in last year’s budget persuaded him to vote against the measure unlike Bunting who specifically singled out the pay and tax increases for his negative vote.

Much like Shockley and Boggs, Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw said that he has yet to make up his mind on the possibility of a raise.

“It’s questionable at this point in time whether we’d be able to do it again,” he admitted. “It’s definitely a bit of a wait and see.”