GREENFIELD — Hancock County employees are expected to get a 4.5 percent raise in 2016, an expense that will cost the county about $425,000.
The proposed raises come in the face of the Hancock County Council denying requests from department heads to hire additional staff members they say are needed to run their offices efficiently. It’s the largest raise county employees have received in recent years, one council members say is necessary to retain the quality staff members already in place.
During the recession, employees received no raises as counties around the state worked to trim their budgets.
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In more recent years, the average raise was about 2 percent.
This year, instead of a raise, county workers received an extra paycheck, which equated to a 3.8 percent bonus.
Council President Bill Bolander said council members felt it was imperative they treat the county’s employees well as the job market continues to improve. They want to retain the staff members who are hardworking and qualified, he said.
“We felt like we were falling behind the market, and we’ve got a lot of good county employees we don’t want to lose because it costs you if you have to retrain people,” he said.
With 337 employees, the raises will cost the county about $425,000 next year, Auditor Robin Lowder said.
That’s an average of about $1,300 per employee.
The cost of the raise is about $357,000 in pay, Lowder said.
An additional $68,000 will be earmarked for tax and retirement contributions.
Bolander said he hopes the raises will help increase employee retention; if employees are making at least as much as their counterparts in similar markets, they’ll be less likely to leave for a new job.
“We want to do this to show the employees we appreciate them,” he said.
Department heads say they appreciate the raises for their employees, but several asked the council to consider making an exception so they could also hire additional workers.
Bolander said most departments are operating well at their current staffing levels, but he understands why managers want to increase the number of available hands. And he doesn’t necessarily disagree with the need.
A few more deputies at the sheriff’s department and an extra set of hands in the clerk’s office wouldn’t hurt, he said. But the council has to watch how and where it spends its dollars.
“Of course, everyone always wants more,” he said. “If you hire four or five employees — poof! There goes the raises.”
Hancock County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Brad Burkhart asked the council to consider allowing the department to hire at least four new officers. He told council members at a recent budget hearing that the local option income tax fund, which is earmarked for public safety expenses, could be increased to help sustain the positions and said he’d look at other funding options as well.
His wish list included two deputies who would focus on narcotics investigations, a full-time deputy to patrol the courthouse and one to work in the jail.
Clerk Marcia Moore asked the council to consider allowing her to hire another employee.
Bolander agreed Moore’s is one department where an extra employee might be helpful; it’s bogged down by tons of paperwork that can’t be filed electronically. Still, the council denied her request.
Moore told council members she’s worked hard since taking office to cut expenses and run her office on a tight budget. But her staff members work hard, she said, and her office is swamped with work. An extra employee would be helpful, she said.
She appreciates the raises for the employees she has, but the number of workers in her office hasn’t grown in 15 years, despite population growth.
“I recognize the need for council to hold the bottom line,” she said. “I am disappointed I wasn’t able to get anther person so we can do a better service to our community.”
Most department heads didn’t request additional staffing, Bolander said.
“I think they’re running pretty efficiently,” he said. “I think most department heads are pleased with the raises.”
Overall, preliminary numbers for 2016 show revenue of nearly $33 million, and the council has $651,209 in outstanding debt.
The general fund, the county’s largest single fund, is the primary operating fund for the county. It is used to pay for all costs of the county not required by state law to be included in another fund. The fund is expected to receive $10.8 million in revenue in 2016. In 2015, nearly $10.5 million was appropriated to the fund.
Year to year, the budget doesn’t change much, and the council works to keep spending balanced with revenue. Officials don’t want to spend more than what’s generated, Bolander said.
Officials recently met with the county’s financial adviser and were encouraged to cut about $250,000 from the budget before its final approval, he said.
Council members don’t expect to make cuts from money earmarked for raises.
The budget will be legally advertised next month, and a public hearing is set for Sept. 9. Final adoption of the budget is slated for Oct. 14.