Holding personnel costs down has been a goal of the Butler County commissioners for years, but new union contracts totaling about $3.2 million in extra wages show officials are mindful of the fierce competition for good workers.
So far this year, the commissioners have ratified contracts with all six sheriff’s unions, building inspectors, Water & Sewer Department workers and most recently with the Job and Family Services union employees. The contracts are all three-year agreements covering about 494 employees and amount to approximately $3.2 million in new money over the life of the deals.
Taxpayers foot the bill for the majority of the raises except Water & Sewer; it is an enterprise department that does not use any general fund money and relies almost entirely on fees for service.
County Administrator Judi Boyko told the Journal-News the commissioners always keep the taxpayers in mind when negotiating these deals.
“With each one of those ratifications the commissioners were committed to reasonably spending taxpayers money while still affording to be able to retain the talent and made adjustments for equity purposes,” Boyko said. “It’s clearly apparent that the commissioners were committed to that within the range that is responsible for the taxpayer.”
The six sheriff’s office unions sealed their deals earlier this year and amount to the largest outlay of additional cash. The deputies and their supervisors were the first group with new contracts ratified in January, covering 136 employees for a total of roughly $950,000 in new money over the life of the agreements.
The deals include 3% pay increases in each of the three years, annual step increases and longevity incentives when employees hit their five, ten and 15 year anniversaries — of 2%, 2.5% and 2.75% respectively.
Then in April the corrections officers, supervisors, dispatchers and clerical staff sealed a new deal worth an estimated $990,000 to $1.17 million in raises for 196 staffers. The new contracts call for 2.5% increases in each of the three years, longevity step increases and other incentives.
FOP Union President Jasen Hatfield at the time said they came to an agreement quickly.
“The administration of the sheriff’s office we were really happy, with how they came into the negotiations,” Hatfield said. “I think everybody was pulling the rope the same direction and we’re really happy with how both sides got along with this.”
According to the new contract the pay range for deputies this year is $56,709 to $75,519 and there are eight steps from rookie to the top range. The range for sergeants is $79,740 to $93,580 and lieutenants’ pay goes from $91,737 to $107,612 in seven years.
The step increases for deputies start out in the $3,500 range in the beginning but gradually decrease by year to around $1,500.
The commissioners instituted a pay-for-performance plan several years ago, rather than automatic pay hikes. They tried to get the unions to comply, and for the most part they have, the sheriff’s department is a little different because in order to compete they have to offer what other law enforcement agencies do and they operate on the automatic raise model.
The Water & Sewer Department has the next highest increase at $567,505 over three years for 74 employees. This contract is a hybrid where raises are concerned, with equity adjustments to the pay scales and performance pay based on the commissioners’ plan.
The commissioners for several years have operated with a two-part performance-based pay formula that calls for pay hikes in the 1% to 3% range added to an employee’s base pay which they refer to as part A and another 1% to 3% percent available in lump sum payments they call part B. The Water & Sewer contract follows that plan.
Traditionally, the commissioners set a 2% pool of money from a given department’s total payroll for eligible, non-union employees for the base increases and an equal amount for the lump sum incentive bonuses. This year they increased the pools of money to 3%.
W&S Director Martha Shelby told the Journal-News the equity adjustments were included in the contract after they took a look at how salaries for her employees compare to the market, “we feel we have a good contract with more competitive ranges.”
“Our older employees are retiring so we’re hiring in junior employees, and they are starting at the beginning of the pay scale; we found the beginning of our pay scales was way too low,” Shelby said. “Until we were in a hiring mode we really didn’t see that, we didn’t feel that.”
The new hourly rate range at the bottom of the scale starts at $15 and goes up to $15.61 in 2024. The maximum in that pay grade is $20.60 and jumps to $21.43 at the end of the contract. Hourly rates at the top pay grade start at $28.59 and top out at $37.21 by the end of the agreement.
The additional money in the JFS contract is roughly $503,820 and includes $70,000 for $1,000 lump sum payments employees received as retroactive pay. The old contract expired in June and the new one wasn’t ratified until the end of October.
JFS Executive Director Julie Gilbert said for this year the commissioners’ performance pay plan won’t be in effect, instead the base pay rates increased by $1.50. Starting pay for a clerk is $15 and maxes out at $19 per hour. At the top of the pay scale social workers will earn $20.75 to $26.50 per hour. The commissioners’ performance pay program kicks in next year.
“These negotiations were primarily centered around wages,” Gilbert said. “Our employees deserve to be recognized for their ongoing and vital contributions and I am pleased that we have a contract that is fair and fiscally responsible.”
The smallest contract only represents three people in the Development Department’s Building and Zoning section. Director David Fehr said the new deal amounts to $16,500 in new money over the three-year term. Their pay ranges were also adjusted, the lowest hourly rate is $25.63 and highest will hit $34.61 at the end of the contract.
“Our labor consultant from Clemans Nelson performed a market analysis of surrounding communities and determined we needed to adjust our pay rates in order to better compete for employees,” Fehr said.
Commissioner Don Dixon said “I think the ones we’ve ratified so far have been fair,” and they always have to be cognizant that salaries compound — that’s why the performance plan includes a mix of base wage increases and lump sum payments.
“It’s hard, you just have to take everything into consideration, the inflation rate, the CPI, the gasoline prices, the insurance, the daily cost of living and all that other stuff,” Dixon said. “You have to try and figure out what the market is and stay in the middle of it. Government doesn’t pay like the private sector does, never has, never will, but there are a lot of benefits that come with that.”
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