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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Expect County Pay Plan To Cost $313,385 In 2017

For several years Marinette County department heads have been concerned about good employees leaving county employ to find better pay at similar jobs elsewhere. Currently, most Marinette County employees, unless they were promoted to other jobs, have not moved up in their job grade for at least three years.

The last wage study, done by WipFli, was based on the idea that once the plan was implemented future raises would hinge on employee job performance evaluations. When the plan was adopted, experienced employees were placed in the mid-point pay range for their job classification and any advancement beyond that was to be based on performance evaluations. However, no process for completing the evaluations and determining the amount of raises was ever put into place.

Newly hired employees remained at their starting pay level. Only small percentage raises were given across the board. There is no process for moving beyond mid-point on the pay scale, and no process for moving up the pay grade ladder.

Department heads began having problems hiring experienced people to fill positions, and complained of losing good, qualified people who left for better paying jobs elsewhere. There also was disparity in pay for similar jobs in different county departments.

About a year ago County Board hired the Carlson Dettman consulting firm to do a new wage study with the goal of bringing Marinette County pay schedules back into line with the market rates for other public and private jobs with similar duties, requirements and responsibilities, and to hopefully equalize pay for employees doing similar work for different county departments.

That study is now complete, and will be presented for approval when County Board meets on Tuesday, June 27. County Board's Personnel and Veterans Service Committee approved the new pay plan and some policies to go with it after long discussion at its meeting on Thursday, June 15, and sent it along to the Finance Cnommittee for financing.

Administrator John LeFebvre said the new wage rates will take effect on July 16 if County Board gives approval at its meeting on Tuesday, June 27. That may or may not happen.

Only the 2017 portion of the plan was recommended for approval by the Finance Committee when it met on Monday, June 19, and even that approval was preceded by some vigorous discussion.

In response to questions raised several times in the last few weeks by County Board Chair Mark Anderson, LeFebvre had prepared a projection of what the new pay scale will cost and presented it at the two committee meetings.

From the basic wage/benefit cost with existing positions filled under the recommended implementation plan LeFebvre deducted 10 percent for staff turnover and added 2.5 percent for cost of living raises after the first year.

Based on those assumptions, the added cost in the budget, with benefits, will be $313,385 for the second half of 2017. If the plan goes forward to 2018 another $544,055 will be added, plus another $428,720 in 2019. There should be some leveling off in future years as employees reach the pay steps appropriate for their years of service. Also, predictions are that more new employees will be starting at lower pay grades than the experienced employees they replace. The study predicted about 45 percent of current employees will likely retire in the coming six years.

Some of the projected costs will be reduced by reimbursements from the state for county services, but those numbers have not yet been calculated. For example, wages for many employees in the Health and Human Services Department are at least partly offset by contracts with the state.

At previous meetings LeFebvre had explained he intends to implement the study by putting each employee into the slot for his or her pay grade that gives at least a bit of a pay raise. The plan then is to move each employee up one "slot" every other year, and give across the board raises equal to the cost of living percentage increase in the alternate years until eventually everyone is in the pay slot appropriate for their job and years of service. Steps are calculated in 2.5 percent increments.

When discussion on the subject started at the Finance Committee meeting, LeFebvre explained the increased payroll expense does not necessarily mean they need to raise the levy that much. "It's made up of some tax levy, grants, intergovernmental charges, user fees. User fees likely aren't going to cover much because nobody's probably going to propose any user fees to change in the next six months. The user fees would be more for next year."

Co. Supervisor Vilas Schroeder said he understands the need to compensate people fairly, "but in 2018, we're looking at only a $531,000 increase in our revenues""

"I kind of share Vilas' concern," commented Supervisor Rick Polzin. "I can see in the first year using those tactics to mitigate the costs, but here you're talking about committing to an ongoing program"The only way you're going to get that is by sucking money out of other things and I don't know if we can commit long-term to doing that."

Supervisor Don Pazynski said when they approved having a wage study they knew it was going to mean spending more for employee pay.

"We're going to hold our feet to the fire here," Schroeder declared. He felt the rate of staff attrition might be even less once the new pay scales go into effect. He felt they probably have people leaving now because of wages, but after getting the raises they may decide they do not want to go anywhere else.

"I can see giving the employees a raise at this point in time. We budgeted for it. It's there," commented Polzin. "But to commit to ongoing costs, we're only setting ourselves up to break a promise like we did with WipFli, in future years, being able to fund these things. Unless we come up with dramatic new revenue sources, I don't see how you're going to come up with half a million dollars a year in new money to fund just salaries."

"What are you going to do? Just do nothing, say forget it?" asked Pazynski.

"No, I say we move on, give it some more thought and come up with those funding sources," replied Polzin. "To John's point, let's find out truly how much money is there in additional revenues. We've got the budget coming up. There's all kinds of costs here, but we have no plan how to meet those. If you're going to put half a million dollars into salary, that's not the only thing we're going to deal with."

Schroder felt once the wages catch up, the annual cost increase will hopefully flatten out.

Anderson said they can attribute the morale problem among county employees to the fact that the WipFli study implementation never happened. "My personal take on this is that I'd rather see less employees and treat everyone around here fairly". He suggested they should try to eliminate some positions if that's what it takes to fund the new pay scale, rather than cheating everybody. "We'd be way better off having 250 employees down the road that are getting paid well and hopefully working their tail off for us than having 300 ticked off employees all just grumpy every day they come into this place, and I'm not saying it's going to get to that point that far down""

Polzin advocated doing the raise just for this year. "We've got the budget coming up. I'm not saying we're not going to implement the study. I'm just saying we've got to find out where the money's coming from and have an opportunity to do a budget once. It'll give us a little better idea. I'm not saying I'm not for doing this, I'm just not for breaking promises that we can't fund."

"What will be forwarded to you from Personnel is how we're going to move forward into the future, how we're going to implement it," LeFebvre told the Finance Committee. He added that meant not just the implementation in which they give everybody an increase that gives them a step into their categories, but the ongoing plan.

"What we need to know as managers, what I need to know as the county administrator, if I'm hiring an accountant, or I'm hiring a finance director, if I'm hiring a conservationist or whatever, they want to know what they're going to see for salary increases. They want to know what they're going to get the first year, the second year, the third year and the fourth year. We have to have a pay plan that's adopted by the county, agreed to by the county, that these are going to be their steps, because we're going against competitors that are doing that."

"We have our competitor, Oconto County, who is saying "you are going to go up a step every single year' and if we say "no,' it's going to be at the whim of the county board every single year. It's always at the whim of the county board. The county board can decide what they're going to do based on the financial condition of the county. They have that right. I say we have to lay something out in advance. We have to have a vision that this is what we're going to make work for us."

He continued, "If it seems we have to cut corners here or there or not buy a new dump truck or not buy a new grader, to take care of the 322 plus employees of Marinette County, I think that's where you need to invest your money right now. We're a service entity. We provide services here, and we need good staff to provide good, quality services."

"I'm not trying to throw out the checkbook," LeFebvre went on, "but I am saying when a new employee gets hired here, they want to know what they're going to get paid." He said if he cannot tell prospective employees what they will make in 2018 or 2019, ""they're not going to take a job for us."

Supervisor Don Phillips commented they have already seen that it gets expensive to train someone, lose them and have to retrain someone again, "That costs money too."

"Retaining is cheaper than re-training," Schroeder agreed.

Nevertheless, Pazynski moved to just approve the wage study pay scale for 2017 and not for 2018 and Polzin seconded. Finance Director Pat Kass said they didn't need a motion but Schroeder thought it would just be better if they passed it anyway, which they did. Some money for the $313,385 in added pay and benefits for 2017 was included when the budget was adopted last November, and there have been added savings because of some eliminated positions and vacancies left unfilled.

There was some in-depth discussion at the Personnel Committee meeting on how the Carlson Dettman plan will be implemented, accompanied by some recommended changes to the Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual that will be forwarded to County Board for approval along with the 11-step Carlson Dettman Step Plan itself.

The plan lists pay rates for 139 positions in 20 different job grades, with 11 steps each, starting at the minimum, which is 87.5 percent of the market rate for each job grade, then increasing by 2.5 percent increments to Step 6, the control point, which is 100 percent of the market rate, and then to the maximum pay for each position, at 112.5 percent of the market rate. Pay rates for salaried personnel have been translated into per hour pay, based on 40 hours per week. Those who still work 35 hours per week are being encouraged to switch to 40 hours, but if they decline, their pay will be for 35 hours, based on the hourly calculations.

Exempt employees will get an extra week of comp time in lieu of overtime, and can build up to 16 hours of comp time for working more than 40 hours, but will not be paid for unused time if they leave county employ.

LeFebvre explained the 45 management exempt people are mainly in department head and managerial positions for which it is very difficult to track hours worked. In addition to sometimes working varied hours, they carry cell phones and are called at home, on vacation, and elsewhere to deal with issues that may arise.

There also will be positions of lead worker created, where a person put in charge of at least three co-workers for a minimum of four hours will receive extra pay while handling those responsibilities. There also will be a differential for workers who regularly or when called in work evening hours.

Job grade B, the lowest paying filled position for the county, starts at $13.35 per hour, with mid-point at $14.11 and tops at $15.87. This is for transporters for Health and Human Services, library assistants and library pages.

At the top of the list, in job grade T is the County Administrator, with starting pay translated into hourly at $45.37, control point at $53.73, and maximum at $58.97. This means the maximum annual salary would be $122,657 per year, and the starting annual salary would be $95,409.60.

Next highest paying jobs are those of Corporation Counsel and Health and Human Services Director, which starts at $42.84 per hour and reaches a maximum of $55.08; followed by Finance Director, Human Resource Director, and Information Services Director, at $41.02, $46.88, and caps at $52.74.

Pay for elected officials, including judges, and District Attorney, is not on the list, nor is pay for Assistant District Attorney, which is paid by the state. The County Psychiatrist with the Department of Health and Human Services also is not include in the pay plan, and LeFebvre said he has already told him he will not be getting the cost of living increases.

Those who change to more responsible positions will be placed at a step that gives them at least a five percent raise. Significant changes in the job itself will involve elimination of one position and creation of a new one, with pay set at the grade appropriate level.

LeFebvre distributed copies of the compensation charts at each of the committee meetings, and explained there are also designations of management exempt (ME), professional/computer exempt (PCE) and non exempt (NON). The exempt positions are those of salaried employees for whom the county is exempt from paying time and a half or hours worked over 40 per week.

If County Board approves the pay plan, the entire document is to be posted on the county's web site.

In his explanations at the Personnel Committee meeting, LeFebvre said of the county's approximately 332 positions, 45 now will be management exempt, and 42 positions that previously were exempt now will be non exempt and eligible for overtime pay.

But there are trade-offs. Some of the newly non-exempt employees will get overtime when and if they work over 40 hours, but will lose a week of vacation they had been getting in lieu of comp time. Some departments had been getting 12 paid sick days a year, and others only nine. Now all will get nine.

The six salaried employees who were hired to work 35 hours per week and continue to do so will be offered some incentives for going to 40 hours per week. One of them is the fact that once placed on the pay scale 35-hour employees will stay in that slot and be ineligible for any raises other than the standard cost of living raises every other year.

LeFebvre said to implement the plan, all employees will go into the step that gives them an increase in pay, after which management will look at years of service, with one year equaling step one, etc. People with five or more years of service will go at least into Step Five, LeFebvre said, adding they are trying to put those people into the step that puts them at least close to the going market rate for people with similar job skills.

All in all, even after the plan is adopted, it remains "just a piece of paper" until it is implemented.

Then every other year cost of living raises will be based on the consumer price index, but will not be more than 2.5 percent. LeFebvre said from July of 2011 through June of 2013 the cost of living had gone up 3.29 percent, from 2013 to 2015 it rose 1.62 percent. From June of 2015 through April of this year it rose 1.98 percent, and only once in the last six years did the CPI increase more than 2.9 percent.

Anderson again asked for calculations of actual taxpayer costs. LeFebvre said he will work on that, and noted some positions are paid by outside sources, for example the state pays half the cost of child support workers, Oconto County pays half the cost of the landfill manager, numerous Health and Human Services positions are funded by the state, and in the Land Information Department grants and reimbursable time offset some employee costs.

LeFebvre said the bottom line for county property taxpayers is that the county budget can only go up in an amount equal to the amount of new growth, and if the $150,000 additional spending allowed isn't needed for salaries it will go some place else.

Anderson wanted assurance that the annual raises come back to the Personnel Committee and County Board for approval each year, and are not given automatically. County Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison suggested adding that to the Policies and Procedures manual.

The pay scale includes an appeal process for employees who feel their position was not correctly placed to discuss factual issues with the Carlson Dettman team.

Policies for performance reviews were also discussed. LeFevbre said he would like to make the reviews standard practice, even though it had not worked in the past because department heads did not know how to go about it. However, he said, in the future, ""Performance related pay"I'm definitely open to that."

Ken Keller objected to a provision in the performance review procedures that the department head "may" invite the chair of the appropriate committee to participate. Russ Bauer agreed with him, and eventually, so did Mike Behnke. Current policy says the committee chair must participate, but that apparently has happened seldom if ever. After some discussion, over objections raised by LeFebvre and Human Resources Director Jennifer Holtger, the committee voted three to two to require the administrator or department head to invite the appropriate committee chair to participate in the department head review process. Behnke, Keller and Bauer voted in favor. Anderson and Committee Chair Joe Policello were opposed.

In other business at its June 15 meeting the Personnel Committee considered a request for a wage adjustment for the County Board's vice chair but agreed to take no action, at least for now. The issue had first come up at the committee's May meeting but discussion was postponed until June

Behnke asked where the subject originated. Committee Chair Joe Policello said County Board Vice Chair Schroeder had brought it up to him, saying he has to attend a lot of extra meetings and is paid nothing extra for the position. Policello said he had expected Schroeder to attend, but he was not there.

Currently the vice chair receives no added compensation for the position, but does get per diems for attending assigned meetings and assigned activities at which he has an official function.

Corporation Counsel Mattison advised that there can be no pay changes mid term for county board members or officers. Salaries must be set before the deadline for filing nomination papers for the next general election. This year, that would mean deciding prior to Dec. 3 for salaries that would take effect when new terms begin after elections in April.

Keller opposed adding pay for the vice chair. He said there are not that many duties, and the ones there are are adequately compensated by the additional per diems. Without a formal vote, the committee agreed to take no action.

The committee approved a change proposed by LeFebvre that may save the county some money on its cell phone bill. Under the existing policy, the approximately 120 employees who are issued county provided cell phones are forbidden to use them for personal use. Many carry two cell phones for that reason. Now, effective Jan. 1, employees who choose to do so can claim county reimbursement for a portion of their cell phone bill, proposed to be $25 a month. In turn, the county will not have to pay for separate cell phones and cell phone service for them.

Holtger reported there have been some bad on-the-job accidents involving county since January, many due to the ice. There were 46 lost time work days, the most she has seen since she started in 1998.

Routine Commercial Driver's License checks were completed, and there were no issues, Holtger reported.

The HIPPA audit found eight issues they need to work on, Holtger said. They check on 48 items.

A future meeting will include discussion on requiring employees to bring a doctor's excuse if they miss three or more days of work due to illness or injury.

The committee recommended that County Board approve proposals to create an assistant jail administrator position immediately and eliminate the administrative correction officer position when vacant, and to do some reshuffling of positions in the Land Information Department as a result of LeFebvre leaving his position of department head and MarOco Landfill Administrator to accept the County Administrator's job earlier this year. A waste facilities manager position is to be created and the conservation technician position will be eliminated when vacant. There also will be an Assistant Land Information Director position created and a GIS Coordinator position eliminated. LeFebvre explained the jobs will still all get done, but some job responsibilities are being reassigned.


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