In recent months, Mobile County employees have been talking about pay raises, but over the same time period employees of another governing body in the county have seen a steady stream of salary increases.

The board of the Mobile County Communications District, commonly referred to as the 911 Board, had a lengthy discussion about merit raises during its regular meeting Dec. 11. Historically, the district has offered its employees a 5 percent annual salary increase.

However, one board member proposed trimming those yearly merit increases down to 2.5 percent to address growing discrepancies between the salary of the 911 board’s employees and municipal employees who work alongside them.

Ultimately, the board agreed unanimously to implement the change beginning in 2015, but elected to keep 5 percent merit raises as an option for “special or exemplary performance.” The decision was also accompanied by some pointed discussion about where those discrepancies might exist.  

“I see this as a disparity,” MCCD board member Trey Oliver said. “I don’t mean to rain on the 911 employees’ parade, but I think if we continue in this direction we’re going enhance that disparity, and I can see that causing us some challenges down the road, if it hasn’t already.”

Oliver is a member of the board’s personnel committee, but as the warden of the Mobile Metro Jail, he also frequently represents the Mobile County Merit System Employees Association. Oliver suggested cutting the rate of the district’s merit increases in half would be “fiscally responsible” and would prevent problems going forward.

The MCCD is tasked by the state with maintaining the emergency communications network used by first responders and law enforcement agencies around the county and is funded through fees taken from landline and mobile phone users. Those monies are collected by Alabama’s state 911 Board, and then distributed monthly to each district based on its population.  

According to a FY 2015 budget, the MCCD is expecting around $11.5 million in income from its allocations and $16.9 million in total income after factoring in other accounts.

As for its costs, the district’s largest planned expenditure is the $5.4 million set aside for capital improvements to the metro radio systems, which is part of a larger $40 million project that broke ground last month. The second largest expense comes from personnel costs, including approximately $2 million in salaries for 31 full-time and two part-time employees.

Oliver said the board doesn’t have any intention of taking away the merit system all together, but said if the level of the raises weren’t tapered, it could cause tension amongst other employees managed by Mobile County Personnel Board’s guidelines.

“Even with a 2.5 percent merit raise, it’s still going to cause us some challenges, because I don’t see the County Commission stepping up to the plate and being consistent with merit raises,” he said. “But, I hope I’m wrong.”

Oliver also used the floor to compare MCCD’s practices with the other organizations represented at the meeting, agencies such as Mobile County EMS, the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department, the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office and others.

According to those at the meeting, Mobile County personnel haven’t seen a merit increase in six years — though those employees did recently receive an across-the-board pay raise of 2.5 percent. During the same time period, city of Mobile employees say they have only received one merit increase.

Yet, the director of IT for the MCCD told Oliver he had seen three merit raises in six years, and had only received fewer than six because he had reached the top of his salary schedule. According to Oliver, IT personnel have one of the biggest disparities of county employees compared to those of the MCCD. Oliver said the IT specialists at the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office “make a fraction of what our guys make.”

The MCCD uses pay ranges for its employees, and each employee’s position on that range depends on their length of service and job performance history. Though they try to match their compensation with that outlined by the Personnel Board, MCCD is not bound by those salary ranges.

Multiple attempts to reach Mobile County Personnel Director Donald Dees for this report were unsuccessful, which has been the case in previous stories related to MCCD salaries.

Several merit increases have been approved by the MCCD’s board over the past several months including five in October and two in both November and December. Director Gary Tanner and Deputy Director Charlie McNichol have also received salary increases this year.

County Engineer Joe Ruffer, who serves as chairman of the 911 Board, said the MCCD has tried to mirror the merit system used by the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT).

“If you go back and look, historically ALDOT hasn’t missed their 5 percent merit increase, while other parts of the state haven’t given raises,” Ruffer said. “That disparity exists other places, but here we admittedly have a different situation because our employees are working shoulder-to-shoulder with all of the other employees. I can see those starting salaries are maybe starting to get out of kilter, and it could create some sort of friction if we’re not careful.”

However, salaries weren’t only disparity discussed. Oliver also addressed the health insurance costs paid by county and city employees, which MCCD employees do not have.

Mobile County personnel currently pay $86 monthly for single coverage and $218 for family coverage. For the city of Mobile, single coverage premiums can cost employees anywhere from $54 to $104 a month, depending on their hire date and annual salary. Under the same stipulations, family coverage can cost a city employee anywhere from $140 to $267 monthly.

According to Tanner, MCCD employees are fully covered by the district, and as reported by Lagniappe earlier this year, a small number of retired employees were also offered full coverage insurance until recently.

“I’m going to come work out here when I retire from the county,” Oliver said jokingly to his fellow board members. “I know this is a touchy subject because we’re talking about people’s pay, but we need to be financially responsible. To me, this (merit increase reduction) seems equitable.”