New Butler County pay plan gets salaries ‘right-sized’

A new pay structure for county employees is based on performance and will bring more control to personnel costs that for years included double-digit raises that nearly broke the county’s bank.

The latest edition of performance pay will impact 129 non-union employees under the direct control of Butler County commissioner — they manage a total of 642 people — and cost the county about $401,000. Under the new plan employees will receive a two percent cost of living raise to their base salary and are eligible to receive up to two percent more in lump sum merit pay that will be in their paychecks quarterly.

The new pay structure is the result of an effort launched six years ago to study the county’s pay scales and get them more aligned with the market and within the county, according to Human Resources Director Jim Davis.

A company surveyed other governments and the private sector to see how the county stacked up pay-wise. As a result of the study, in 2011 it was determined 42 of the 144 non-union employees under the commissioners' control were overpaid and 14 others were underpaid.

The creation of a two-part system means that if the economy sees another recession, the county can adjust its merit pay spending, said Commissioner Don Dixon.

“This particular plan recognizes the performance of our employees, what they do, how hard they work and what they contribute, so they can be rewarded,” he said. “It also lets this board react to the economy and the outside financial factors that consistently drive our budget.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said raises were out of line when she was first elected to the board of commissioners.

“We did have tremendous increases in our personnel appropriations and no control of that,” she said. “From a budgetary standpoint it is the right thing to do.”

For years, large raises — some as high as 60 percent — were commonplace and the county budget could not sustain the expense. Mass layoffs during the recession were necessary to make ends meet.

Performance pay has been a tough issue for the county, especially because the bulk of its employees are unionized. But during the past two years, Butler County has negotiated some component of performance pay into 10 of its 14 union contracts.

Human Resources Director Jim Davis said he continues talking to unions and other groups outside the commissioner’s control, championing performance pay. He said getting salaries right-sized is no easy task, but he believes they have come very close to the best possible pay plan they can.

“Trying to find that sweet spot, we’ve got our base pay adjustment in place that’s keeping in line with our revenues and our cost of living,” Davis said. “We’ve also got this additional amount we can use to reward strong performance, ensuring that we’ve got the folks there that can deliver high quality service to the public.”

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