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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Board Adopts New County Pay Plan

After long discussion, many questions and a few complaints Tuesday, Aug. 27, Marinette County Board on a split vote agreed to implement the new “benchmarked and compression positions” included in the WIPFLI wage study as recommended by the Personnel Committee and County Administrator Ellen Sorensen, except that the raises it includes will be given over a two year period rather than all coming in 2014. The raises, some of them hefty, total a $130,670 addition to the county payroll, half in 2014 and half in 2015.

The 2014 increase is at least partly offset by eliminating the annual cost of living raises routinely granted to all employees regardless of job performance each year under the old pay system. Personnel Committee Chair Connie Seefeldt pointed out that even at one percent, an across the board cost of living raise for 2013 would increase personnel costs by $170,000 a year.

With the new pay system, future raises will be given on the basis of job performance, based on annual evaluations, not longevity, Sorensen said. Eventually there should be a savings of $340,138 a year resulting from “red circling” positions the study found to be overpaid. People in those positions will not be getting a raise until individual performance evaluations bring their scheduled pay up to the amount they are currently receiving. In some instances this could take years. The Health and Human Services Economic Support Manager position is overpaid by $10,801 a year, according to the study, and is one of the jobs for which compensation will be red circled.

More raises and more red circled positions are most likely on the horizon. The board approved expanding the WIPFLI study to include data on an additional 43 positions to be benchmarked, plus elected officials, at a cost of $350, not to exceed $15,000. Motion made by Supervisor Kathy Just to include elected officials positions went through despite caution from Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison that criteria will be based on state statutes, which with the exception of the District Attorney are very minimal for elected officials. There was a somewhat joking suggestion to include County Supervisor positions in the study, but that was quickly discarded.

Sorensen stressed the pay scales are based on job requirements and responsibilities, not on training, performance or ability of the person who happens to be holding the job.

Several supervisors wanted to delay a decision until September, since they had just received the information on Thursday, Aug. 22 with their County Board packets, and had just heard the supporting information moments before being asked to vote. Sorensen said she needed an immediate decision since she will use the numbers when computing the preliminary budget she is to present in September.

Eventually the board approved the implementation by a vote of 24 to four, with supervisors Mike Behnke, Mel Sharpe, Al Sauld and Gilbert Engel opposed. Supervisor Cheryl Wruk abstained and Supervisor Joe Banaszak was absent.

That vote came shortly after a motion to spread the raises over a two year period rather than grant the entire amount in 2014 was made by Supervisor Ted Sauve and seconded by Supervisor Robert Holley. That change in the original motion was approved by a vote of 16 to 12, with votes in favor cast by supervisors C. J. Barrette, Russ Bauer, Alice Baumgarten, Ken Casper, Mike Cassidy, Paul Gustafson, Holley, Shirley Kaufman, Ken Keller, Nick Lakari, Tom Mailand, Al Mans, Sauve, Bill Walker, Clancy Whiting and Board Chair Vilas Schroeder. Again, Wruk abstained.

The WIPFLI study came to the floor on a motion by Seefeldt, as Personnel Committee Chair. Seefeldt said when she first got on County Board many years ago there was also a wage study in progress that was quite different from this one. It was turned down, so the county continued to operate under an old pay schedule.

The old pay schedule, which is still in use, is the Arthur Young Study adopted about 30 years ago. Over the years, settlement of union contracts have sometimes changed the balance between pay and positions, and occasionally, as in the Sheriff’s Department, that resulted in sergeants being paid more than the lieutenants, Chief Deputy and Sheriff. As an elected official the Sheriff position was not evaluated in the first phase of the study.

She said for many years people in similar positions in various county departments have not been receiving equal pay. “This is about fairness,” she declared. “This will cure many years of inequity for these people and their families.” She said eventually the county can save $340,000 a year if this is adopted.

Sorensen took the podium with a prepared statement on need for the new pay schedule before the highlighted sheets with the recommended position benchmarks for 30 jobs held by 105 county employees were distributed by Information Services Director Larry Schultz, who had co-chaired the county’s Position Review Committee with Lindsey Arcane of the finance department.

“Just as Marinette County is maintaining its assets such as road infrastructure and buildings, there is a need for it to maintain its wage structure,” Sorensen explained. “Roads need a good solid base. Buildings need a good solid foundation. This comprehensive wage study would become our solid base for our wage and salary structure.”

“Marinette County has been using five different pay scales as well as a nearly 30-year-old wage study to determine wages,” Sorensen reiterated. “The current system is not a comprehensive wage system but one that it is cobbled together!”

“It is also a system that has been manipulated over the years through cronyism and used to punish employees or reward friends,” she charged.

“What is being presented today is a system not based upon the person in the job, but the job position itself. The functions of the position and the performance of the individual must drive the study in order for it to work. Managers must manage and workers must perform!”

She continued, “We can no longer write the positions for the person, we must write the position for the needs of Marinette County. Personal agendas need to be checked at the door and are no longer welcome here!”

“Let me caution you that I suspect the folks who have been the most successful in manipulating the system in the past will be very vocal in their objection to this study and may even begin to campaign against it. Please take into consideration that in many cases these positions have been paid over market for years,” Sorensen cautioned.

She said the initial 30 benchmarked positions are the beginning of a comprehensive reform of the county wage structure. They asked that the positions move to mid-grade on the market rate established by comparing pay for similar jobs in Door and Oconto counties as well as a number of private non-profit and for-profit entities. The next motion called for studying the additional 43 positions, after which the job evaluation team felt all county jobs could be “slotted” into their proper position on the pay scale.

Told future raises will all be performance based, Engel wondered what bench marks performance would be based on. Sorensen said someone who is “a super star,” going well above and beyond the job description, could move to the high point on the scale. Engel maintained in that case it becomes subjective. Sorensen said they will probably need to train department managers in how to do objective evaluations. She said for too many years, many departments depended on union contracts to set their pay scales.

Sauve felt there was not enough time for supervisors to really consider the proposition before casting their votes. He said they should not be like Nancy Pelosi when urging passage of Obama Care, “Let’s pass it today and we’ll read it tomorrow.” He suggested holding off on action until the Sept. 17 board meeting, but Sorensen said that would not give her time to get the new figures into the budget.

Behnke asked what factors were used to determine which counties are comparable. Sorensen said they looked at size and work force. WIPFLI, due to their work with union contacts, had a list of eight to 120 comparable counties. Behnke objected that Door and Marinette counties differ greatly in area versus population.

Sorensen said they looked at work force and job performance.

“I look at the taxpayers!,” Behnke declared. “This is my 12th year on the board,” he went on. “There isn’t a flawless system.” He said too many times during his years on the board they had followed the advice of experts and then regretted it later.

He took exception to her references to “cronyism and manipulation” in particular. “I supported all this so it becomes kind of personal with me,” he said. “We felt it was right. Now I am being considered manipulative because i supported it!”

Sorensen promptly assured him she had been referring to the staff, not to County Board.

“I think in the past we have been misled by some individuals,” interjected Schroeder. “Obviously we follow the direction that’s given to us. Maybe we didn’t always make the right choices.”

Sorensen thanked the Wage Study Committee for devoting more than 70 hours each to the evaluations, interviewing department heads and working out job descriptions.

Lakari saw no point in trying to delay for a month. He said the prospective $340,000 a year savings will not change.

Gustafson pointed out that amount of savings will not come all at once, it will take years. Sorensen said they will see more of the savings in 2015.

The largest single 2-year wage hike, $14,226 over the 2-year period, will go to the Human Resources Director. Other raises of $6,000 or more over the two year period will go to the public health officer, corporation counsel, chief deputy and lieutenants in the Sheriff’s Department, and Emergency Management Director.

WIPFLI evaluators were aided in their work by a Position Review Committee that included Human Resources Director Jennifer Holtger, Schultz, Laura Mans, Arcane and Kate Gross. Sorensen thanked the committee for putting in more than 70 hours of work on the project. Jobs within various departments were evaluated in terms of duties, responsibilities, and amounts of training and education required, and that process also will be followed in the next jobs to be evaluated.

The board approved the creation of a new county “Tourism Coordinator” position as opposed to the “Tourism Director” title that had been proposed for the person to be hired part time to work with the Economic Development and Tourism Committee and the Tourism Alliance Committee to promoite tourism and economic growth in the county. Supervisor Don Pazynski felt it was demeaning to directors who do direct their departments to have a similar title attached to a 1-year project position with no department to direct. The position will be filled at the first of the year, when the current 3-year contract with Marinette Area Chamber of Commerce ends. Just where the person hired will work has not yet been determined, but Sorensen has offered an office near hers in the courthouse at very minimal cost, along with equipment and support staff available.

Pazynski also noted the limited education and experience requirements attached to the job description and expressed hope that they could change that to hire someone with an advertising agency, corporate or public relations background. “We all know how important tourism is to the economy and the quality of life in this county,” he declared.

County Board approved appointments of Philip Everhart and Jeff Lautenslager to the Local Emergency Planning Committee, with no term limitations, as recommended by Sorensen, but only after some objections were raised by Engel. Engel said he had no objections to the proposed appointees, but, “I’d like to see at least a brief biography on these people, on whoever we are being asked to approve...I have no idea who they are or where they come from. Unless we start getting some information, I’m going to start voting no,” he declared.

Supervisor Whiting agreed. Behnke explained in this case he is acquainted with Everhard, who works at Chem Design and has a background in emergency management and safety. Sauve said the two positions at issue here are named by the entity they represent, and formalized by the county administrator and county board.

The board approved purchase of a number of vehicles for various departments, approved the WCA Legislative Position Resolutions as recommended last week by the Finance/Legislative Committee.

Purchase of a used $66,000 Ingersoll Rand Steel Drum Roller Compactor for the highway Department from Ingersoll Rand was approved without dissent after the board was advised that the machine has low usage hours.


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