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Debate over pay scale goes on

A month ago St. Croix County supervisors postponed a vote on a new pay grid and 2010 wages for 230 non-union employees. Tuesday they did it again.

Springsted Inc. usually finishes a salary study like this, from start to finish, in 18 weeks, but after several years, the St. Croix County plan still hasn't been accepted, said Finance Committee Chairman Daryl Standafer.

"We've been at this for six years," he said. "Somehow we have an incredible lack of trust, lack of confidence, in one another."

If the Finance Committee's latest recommendation is followed, non-union workers, many of whom got no raises in 2009, won't get increases until May and the increases would not be retroactive to Jan. 1, said Standafer.

Committee members suggested supervisors use the special Feb. 23 meeting to listen to one another and the Springsted Inc. consultants with no pressure to vote yet. A vote is expected at the March 16 meeting.

Once the grid is adopted, employees would have 10 days to appeal their job descriptions. Those appeals would be reviewed by Administrative Coordinator Chuck Whiting, Corporation Counsel Greg Timmerman and Human Resources Administrator Tammy Funk. That group would decide if appeals should be sent to Springsted for review.

During Tuesday's meeting, some supervisors challenged the proposed pay grid as well as the county taxpayers' ability to afford any pay increases at this time.

Supervisor Lorin Sather, who worked as the county's veterans service officer before retiring, said some of the new job descriptions are "bloated" and some pay proposals too high.

He asked if County Board members can also challenge job descriptions.

Supervisor Sharon Norton-Bauman, Hudson, suggested committees review job descriptions of the department heads they supervise.

"I think it's important that the committees know what those job descriptions say," she said.

Because the pay study wasn't completed when the 2010 county budget was being prepared, the County Board set aside $259,000 for raises for the non-union group. Springsted is suggesting raising non-union salaries a total of $228,238 in 2010 -- an overall increase of 2.01%.

The Springsted website says one of its guiding principles in establishing pay scales for public sector employees is that their earnings should be comparable with salaries received by counterparts in private industry. But, said Supervisor Steve Hermsen, Springsted workers apparently didn't gather any data on private sector pay in this area.

"We are running from a base that is flawed right out the gate," he complained.

Many jobs only exist in county government and are not in the private sector, replied Springsted Vice President Ann Antonsen. Also, she said, in earlier discussions with county representatives, there was no request to include private sector data.

There's a rumor that one employee will get an $8,000 increase if this new pay grid is adopted, said Supervisor Buck Malick, asking Whiting to respond to that.

Two positions that he's been asked about are those held by Human Resources Administrator Funk and Risk Manager Kristen Ziliak, said Whiting.

While the salary study indicates their positions are underpaid, under the Springsted proposal Funk would get a 1.57% increase in 2010 and Ziliak would get an increase of less than 1%, said Whiting. The pay scale for both jobs would be increased, which would mean higher pay in time.

The county's unemployment rate is 7.3%, which means about 8,000 people are out of work, and still property taxes went up, said Supervisor John Mortensen, New Richmond.

"With my taxes going up, why are we giving out raises?" he wondered.

The inclination may be to proceed because the county has spent so much time and money on this project, said Sather. "But I'm of the inclination to let this die on the vine."

He said the study showed pay for most jobs isn't significantly out of line and with no increases for people on Social Security, salary freezes in many sectors and unpaid furloughs for state employees, it might be wise to forgo raises for county employees.

"If we let this die on the vine, that's $259,000 that we don't have to spend," said Sather.

It would be unwise to simply throw out the study, replied County Board Chairman Roger Rebholz. He suggested the board could decide not to give raises this year but adopt the proposed grid to have something to work from in the future.

"What we're trying to do is get the beginning established," said Whiting. He said there will always be issues with pay equity, but those can be worked on.

"We have to get this to the point where this is perhaps not perfect but (it's) right enough," said Whiting.

The Springsted study cost the county $94,000 paid over three years.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.