I could really use some feedback, thoughts and input…
We all pay taxes: Property, Income, State, Federal, etc. A portion of our taxes go to pay for the people who provide any number of services we come to depend on. As a commission, for the past year, we have been debating, studying, analyzing & reviewing county employee salaries. There are two schools of thought – what I need now is a healthy discussion from the people who fund these salaries… you, the taxpayer. So, if you have a few minutes – I’d sure appreciate it!
School of Thought #1. Historically, employees of Traill County have been hired at a given rate, based on a variety of factors: Elected office holders have typically been hired and then held to the same salary range – regardless of responsibility, experience or educational requirements (literally, every elected department head has had the same salary across the board); Exceptions to this include the Auditor and Sheriff which, over the years and based on responsibility, has shifted to a higher salary than other electeds; Support Staff has been hired at a starting wage/salary based on other previous hires and may or may not take responsibility and experience into account; Social Services are required to meet a minimum market salary standard as mandated by the state, and may move within the state sanctioned scale according to responsibility, education and experience; the Road Department implemented a salary strategy a dozen years ago that pays all employees the same rate regardless of years of service…. and so it goes throughout the entire county system with no real system or plan in place. Historically, salary increases have included modest, across the board Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) of 2, 3, 4 or perhaps 5% on an annual basis.
Cons: COLA percentages positively impact higher salaried personnel while impacting lower salaries far less – thereby exacerbating disparity between levels of salaries; COLA does not equate to accountability in a position as the across the board adjustment is intended only to help personnel meet cost of living increases and is not based on merit or expertise. Without a compensation plan, neither employee nor employer have a common point of discussion with regards to salary expectations or accountability.
Pros: COLA is a simple method; is easy to administer; costs a (relatively) minimal amount in mill levy assessment. Having no set compensation plan in place allows for greatest flexibility and interpretation by the commission at the point of hire – and in moving forward with salaries.
School of Thought #2. Market driven compensation plan. Increasingly, counties are moving to a more market based method of arriving at both the beginning salary and then movement forward in the career path. Traill County is unique in that while it does have regional counties of makeup to compare to, we also have two large counties directly to the north and south that are within easy driving distance. In studying these markets, it is possible to have two comparisons in assessing market ranges: The Regional Related Market (9 identified counties within the eastern ND region of similar tax base) and the Competitive Market (Cass and Grand Forks where employees are likely to be recruited to).
In addition to the comparison of actual salaries, there is the need to look at actual benefits paid by the employer. Since benefits vary greatly across the state and health insurance is the single greatest expense to either employer or employee, it was this benefit that was identified and separated. In the market analysis, it is found that both the Related and the Competitive Markets pay 79% of Family Medical Insurance, while Traill pays 41% of this same benefit (Traill only pays for the single employee policy). In terms of annual expense, this 38% difference equates to $5505 paid out by any Traill County employee with family health.
This $5505 would be added to the actual Market Salaries to arrive at an actual dollar figure for every department in the county. The Related Market would provide the average of the similarly based counties, the Competitive Market would provide an average of the higher market we compete with in hiring and retaining staff. From this could also be extrapolated a method of arriving at a beginning salary for new hires, a benchmark program that allows for realignment as the markets change and move forward, the ability to provide COLA increases between benchmark points, and the ability to move into accountability of positions prior to any salary increases being provided. While structured, it would still allow for flexibility in decision making, but would ultimately allow for the common point of discussion needed for accountability and progress.
Cons: Since the county has never implemented a plan in the past and is now far behind on some salaries, the dollar amount to bring people up to Market will be far more than COLA and could cost as much as 170k (approx 4.5 mills) more than a standard COLA to bring all departments up to the appropriate Market point.
Pros: Once implemented and past the initial first year, a system can be implemented that provides for COLA and/or benchmark career point realignments (to keep employees from falling off the Market Range) that would bring the annual increases back to a more “normal” increase that doesn’t adversely affect the required budget mills any more than necessary. Additionally, it provides accountability back to the tax payers as to not only a solid methodology for compensation, but in the work/services provided as well.
So – this is what I need feedback on. I’ve tried to give the shorthand version, and would be glad to answer questions on specifics – but, what I really need from you is what your general thoughts, ideas, philosophies, etc., might be on this topic. As tax payers, we ALL pay for the people required to provide our local services (so even if you’re not from Traill, you probably still have an opinion based on your area). I know my thoughts on the topic – what are yours?
You can send the feedback via comment here, or via facebook comment or message, or you could email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any, all will work, and just depends upon the amount of anonymity you prefer. I will not disclose names, but am interested in general feedback in further discussion with the commission.
Many thanks!! – Gail