SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a plan to increase salaries for county jobs with the highest turnover rates.
The commissioners voted 5-2 to approve the salary reclassification plan proposed by Human Resources Director Stacey Norton in January. Tuesday’s vote came after a motion to approve the plan last month failed 3-3.
“I think it’s time we take care of our employees,” Commissioner Ted Elder said.
As the commissioners reviewed minutes from the January meeting this week, Elder, who’d left early that day and didn’t have a chance to take part in the vote, asked that the issue be reconsidered.
“I noticed that it was a 3-3 tie,” he said. “I’d like to therefore bring this back up for discussion. I’d like to make a motion to approve the revised classification plan.”
Though his peers were quick to question whether the issue could be revisited, the county attorney said that because the initial vote had been a tie the topic could be reconsidered.
Commissioner Chip Bertino said he continued to hold the same concerns he’d voiced with the plan last month.
“To make changes in the middle of the budget year was a major concern,” he said. “As I said that day, I’m not opposed to the plan but I’m certainly opposed to the fact that we’re doing it during the budget cycle.”
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said that wasn’t a good reason to delay approval. Norton told the commissioners last month that the increases could be paid for with $290,837 in savings created by retirements and vacancies.
“It’s a cost neutral move,” he said. “It really doesn’t affect this year’s budget at all.”
Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw, who with Bertino and Commissioner Jim Bunting was opposed to passing the reclassification plan last month, said that he supported the concept but thought the figures themselves should be researched more.
“I think we’ve studied those figures to death,” Elder replied.
The plan proposed by Norton, who has had trouble filling county positions, would reclassify close to 40 positions and revise the associated job grades. Proposed adjustments include increasing the starting rate for a “Maintenance Worker I” from $11.70 to $12.27, for example, and increasing the rate for a “Roads Worker II” from $12.27 to $13.53, among others.
Elder said he thought the positions included in the reclassification plan particularly needed their salaries increased.
“As far as any other phases, I may be in favor or I may be against,” he said. “As far as this particular document, these people need to be compensated. It’s budget neutral.”
“To do this now rather than waiting for budget time to see where we stand, I think it would be detrimental to the taxpayers of Worcester County and not being responsible with taxpayers’ dollars,” he said.
Commissioner Bud Church asked his peers to consider the morning’s closed session meeting. According to the meeting’s agenda, it involved hiring discussions for a number of vacancies.
“If the commissioners will just reflect on what happened in closed session this morning,” Church said. “That’s a strong, a very strong, indication of what’s happening in our county right now. Some action needs to be taken on this. I think it should be approved. The situation is worse not better.”
Bertino said he understood that the county faced a challenge but said spending money before the next year’s budget was developed irresponsible.
“We don’t know where we’re going to end up this budget cycle,” he said.
Mitrecic said the reclassification proposed was just the start of what he thought should be a comprehensive salary review. He wants salaries, benefits, responsibilities and the like to be reviewed in the future.
“It all has to be looked at but we have to start somewhere,” he said. “We can’t keep kicking it down the road … What’d we lose 10 or 12 employees since the last meeting? We have to start doing something sometime.”
The commissioners voted 5-2, with Bertino and Bunting opposed, to approve the reclassification plan.