In an effort to reduce spending in the next fiscal year, the Baldwin County Commission is considering lowering the rate at which the county’s salaried employees are given merit raises amid ongoing deliberations for the 2016 fiscal year budget. The new budget could see a reduction to a 4 percent raise cap for salaried employees.

In the county’s current budget, salaried employees are eligible for a 5 percent merit raise each year. At the behest of their managers, some high-performing salaried employees also received raises that were designated for other employees who were not evaluated at all, meaning some received 7 to 8 percent raises, according to Personnel Director Andrea Rider.

Rider said the new budget could include a 2.5 percent merit raise for salaried employees, with high-performing employees receiving no more than a total 4 percent pay raise. Rider said the county has not decided whether it will change the way it gives raises to hourly workers, who are given 2.5 to 5 percent merit raises depending on which “step” they are rated in their employment scale.

With an estimated budget near $130 million and $38.5 million devoted to labor, the lowered rate would save the county approximately $181,000.
The commission began deliberations on the upcoming budget at the Fairhope Satellite Courthouse July 24. The commission has scheduled discussions through the end of August, and anticipates approving a final budget in October.

Commissioner Tucker Dorsey said the county needs to rethink the way it gives out merit raises because of what he said is the poor state of the economy.

“We are not in an economic environment for the county where we can afford 5 percent raises for everybody,” Dorsey said. “Our community, our neighbors and the citizens we serve are not in an economic position where they are getting similar raises. I think it is morally right and fiscally sound to match the rest of the county. Our economy should be a reflection of the economy of our community. We ought not be handing out big raises when our community isn’t getting similar big raises.”

At the same meeting, Assistant Personnel Director Deidre Hanak said she has been in contact with other, similarly sized personnel departments to determine the best way to handle merit raises. She also said the county’s current budgeted 5 percent increase in pay each year pushes more employees to advance through their set salary schedule quickly.

“I want merit to be merit,” Dorsey said. “If somebody is doing a good job and we are doing our write-ups correctly and see they are doing a good job, then we should increase their pay by a fair amount to a wage that says ‘you are doing a good job and we want you to stay here.’ People who are just doing average or not as good a job, I believe their increase should not be as big.”

Also up for debate is the way the county pays employees who have “topped out” of the salary range for their jobs. In preliminary budget discussions, several departments requested reclassification of “topped out” employees into new roles so they can be paid more, but that would require approval from the commission.

“We have people staying longer than they used to, people who are putting off retirement,” Elliott said. “We have people staying longer and they get topped out. We need to look at whether or not we should add steps or if we can simply look at them and say, ‘this is it, you are topped out’ instead of doing all these reclassifications.”

Dorsey said the county’s department managers need to train employees to move into higher-paying jobs with more responsibility.

“We all know the rules of this county. When you top out, you top out,” Dorsey said. “These people have been here a long time and done a great job, and that’s why they topped out. But if you want to make more money, you’ve got to apply for another job here. That’s the way the world works and that’s how we need to operate here.

“I want our folks to know that we want to train them up to do our jobs,” Dorsey continued. “As managers we need to train people up to be able to replace us. That’s what keeps the county moving with knowledge and expertise, and it gives people the opportunity to learn a new skill set and the confidence they can move into a different job and make more money. I appreciate our people being here a long time, but when you are here for a long time you need to try to learn something new.”
Commissioner Frank Burt agreed.

“What some people don’t understand, some people who have been here a long, long time and done a real good job, is that certain jobs are only valued for so much pay,” Burt said. “You could go out and get 20 people who can do that job for less, so how can you say just because you’ve been here so long we’ve got to pay you more? Learn something else and move into a new job. Age doesn’t matter, you can still learn new things and move into a new position.”

The 2015 county budget included a 1 percent cost-of-living raise and 5 percent merit raises for employees.

Other budget requests from county departments include new flooring and racks for corpses at the coroner’s office. Coroner Stan Vinson said the racks are cheaper than rolling tables, and the new flooring is a necessity for health reasons.

“The area where the deceased are brought in is not carpeted, but the rest of the office is,” Vinson said. “Unfortunately when we get to scenes, we wear shoe covers, and sometimes those shoe covers leak and we don’t know it until we walk into the office.”

The County Commission’s budget deliberations will continue July 30 at the Fairhope Satellite Courthouse.