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County looks at wage scale changes to be more competitive

Changes sought to attract new workers, retain current ones in tight labor market

With jobs going vacant due to lack of qualified applicants, members of the Taylor County Finance and Personnel committees last week called for the full county board to approve an overhaul of the wage scale at a cost of $357,504.

On December 21, Patrick Glynn of Carlson Dettmann Consulting presented to members of the finance and personnel committees the results of the comprehensive wage study showing that Taylor County lags well behind in its wage package compared to other counties in the region and with private employers. Last week, Glynn met again with members of committees about ways to make the county more competitive when attracting workers.

He proposed some plan changes including adding more steps especially lower in the pay scale to give employees raises more frequently. The current scale takes 17 years for an employee to move from the minimum to the maximum for a position. The plan as presented by Glynn trims a year off that while adding adding smaller annual step increases.

“Sometimes perception is reality,” Glynn said, referencing employee morale and concern over being treated unfairly.

After having reached a census over the need to do something, a large portion of last week’s meeting was on what option to use and how to pay for it.

Human resources manager Marie Koerner noted the county already built a step increase into the 2022 but had held off setting a raise amount until after the study was done in order to have flexibility. In addition the county has the proceeds of a property that was sold in the Rib Lake area which had previously been rented to the state for a released sex offender who has since moved out of the county. Between that revenue and what was budgeted, the county had about $307,000 with committee members noting this would put them short.

County finance director Larry Brandl noted a potential source of funds would come from unbudgeted county sales tax revenue. Taylor County has a half percent county sales tax and revenues have steadily climbed from it beyond the amount that is applied annually to the budget. He projected that judging by trends from recent years, the county would have at $175,000 in sales tax revenues that were unbudgeted and could go toward wages going forward.

“It is definitely doable, and I feel we have to do something going forward,” Brandl said, noting he was looking out the next two years.

Glynn presented committee members with four option on ways to implement the new wage scale ranging from setting steps that provide an increase to a one that will provide a least a step 4 placement for employees with at least five years in their current job and provides at least a 2.5% increase for all employees. This impact as far a a percentage of base wage increase ranged from 2.44% to 4.63%.

Committee members focused primarily on the two higher end options. Committee member Lester Lewis said he felt the fourth option which offers a combination of step and wage increases was the best option for staff retention. Brandl said there was enough funds to approve this going forward at least in the shortterm. “This doesn’t negate the work we need to do to find a way to steady our revenue source,” Lewis said. “We have to work on that.”

One of the challenges facing Taylor County, and other counties in the state is state-imposed revenue limit caps which limits the amount of increases to property taxes that can take place. This is especially challenging during periods of inflation when costs outpace growth.

“It is a revenue and expenditure problem for every city and county in the state,” Glynn said.

Lewis said that one way to free up revenue to raise wages would be to cut people, which would mean cutting services to taxpayers. “The is not an easy thing to do,” he said. He said the board has repeatedly asked staff to control their expenditures and the staff members have complied.

“To me it is a revenue problem,” he said. “The biggest part of our expenditures is our employees and it is also our most important resource,” Lewis said.

Koerner said that at the very least they need to be able to hire people to fill positions and to give current employees a decent raise to hopefully retain them.

“Something has to be done,” said committee member Scott Mildbrand. He noted that while the options presented will not be a cure-all they will help the people who are working for the county right now. “I think we need to figure out a long term plan to pay for this,” he said, noting he has also heard that the benefits package may not be up to speed compared to the marketplace.

Committee members asked if there was any hope on the horizon that legislative changes could be made. Lewis replied that with the current control of the legislature there is no relief coming from that direction. “They want to give out grants and things that they can do one time in each budget,” he said, rather than addressing the underlying issues.

“What is going to happen when reality, really sets in,” said county board chairman Jim Metz. “It will hit pretty soon, it has got to.”

“What is going to happen is hard to tell,” Lewis said noting the repetition of the business cycle and how recessions follow periods of growth. He said right now the market is pretty good, but if inflation goes up that could change. “I think we are going to have a real downturn,” he said.

Following a lengthy discussion, committee members voted unanimously to send the recommendation to the full county board for a combination of step changes that provide at least a step four placement for employees with five or more years in their current job and provides at least a 2.5% pay increase. If approved the changes would be retroactive to the pay period that began on January 2. The change would increase total base wages for the county by $357,504 to $8,086,350.