County employees hoping for pay raise

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Deputy Assessor Jessica Rosenblad reviews a file Wednesday at the Curry County courthouse. Rosenblad is a two-year county employee.

Sharna Johnson

The money would help, but for Stephanie Hicks, it’s more about a show of appreciation.

A single-mother working two jobs to support herself and her son, Hicks said even if Curry County decides to give a 1.5 percent pay increase to employees, the money won’t fix all the challenges she faces.

But, she said, it would make the strain a little more bearable emotionally.

“I’d like to bring home a paycheck I can live on,” she said.

“(But) the reason behind the one-and-a-half percent raise is for them to just acknowledge that their employees are worth giving to; worth something to the county.”

Hicks was one of more than half a dozen county employees who, during a commission meeting Tuesday, asked the county to consider a pay increase, even if it is just a small one.

Employees and elected officials — from the assessor’s office, clerk’s office, sheriff’s office, road department and jail — stood one by one to tell commissioners any little token to show their work is appreciated would go a long way.

The issue was part of a discussion on how to use $50,000 that was budgeted in July for employee raises but has not yet been spent.

Commissioners also discussed the possibility of directing the money to just detention center personnel in an effort to improve retention at the jail.

Commissioners directed County Manager Lance Pyle to present them with recommendations for the money.

Hicks said she took a second job at a department store a little more than a year ago, ironically, she said, at nearly the same pay it took her almost seven years to earn at the county.

Working an additional 20 hours a week at night and on weekends in addition to her full-time schedule with the clerk’s office, she said, “is very exhausting; there’s no life.”

But she remains dedicated to her job with the county and plans to stay with it until retirement.

“It’s just a bummer,” she said. “I like my job so I come to work — it’s better than flipping hamburgers, but it’s sad when I can work at Dillard’s for almost the same pay I get here.”

Pyle said Hicks is not alone and many of the county’s approximately 160 employees hold second jobs — which must be approved by their department head and himself — to supplement their incomes.

Next week Pyle said he will be evaluating the available money and possible uses for it as well as what impact it will have on future budgets and what an increase could cost the county in overtime and benefits that increase with the pay.

Pyle said the money is nearly enough to give a 1.5 percent raise to all employees, excluding elected officials.

“We have some great employees and they’re well deserving of a raise, but we’ve also got to step back and do something as a county that we can afford and we can cover in future budget years,” he said.

“Any type of increase is going to impact other areas.”

The last pay increase county employees received was in July 2009, Pyle said, when the average employee received a 2.5 percent increase through a combined across-the-board raise and individual merit raises.

Times have been tough, he said, acknowledging that while insurance premiums have not increased, co-pays and deductibles have jumped along with the cost of living in general.

In the absence of pay increases, said Pyle, employees feel the pinch.

“It’s a hard time for everybody with the economy and the increases that everybody’s seeing,” he said. “We’ve got to find something that we can do with the existing revenue that we have.”

And Pyle said he needs to find a solution to retention issues at the jail, whether it is with this money or lies elsewhere.

Because of the way the pay scale is designed, detention center employees are hired on an experience-based salary. However, they receive no incentive or merit raises as they become experienced and complete advanced training.

“One of the challenges that we have is we’ve had employees with the detention center for a year and a half now making the same salary as an employee hired today with no experience,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to retain these officers and reward them for the job they’re doing.”

Retention and lack of training at the jail were cited as a factor in issues the troubled facility has faced in recent years.

“Over the next week, I will be looking at several options and running numbers to see what type of increase can be give to employees with the money,” said Pyle.