Some Butler County departments get bigger-than-usual raises for 2020

Butler County officials say their employees have sacrificed during lean years, in some instances accepting below-market salaries and raises, so the commissioners are considering rewarding them with larger merit increases and some pay adjustments next year.

The commissioners will consider passing a $416 million budget for 2020 in the coming days, a spending plan that could include $540,925 more for lump sum merit increases, salary adjustments in the county prosecutor’s office that range from 4 to 13.5 percent and additional staffing for the sheriff’s and public defender’s offices.

As presented, the structurally balanced general fund budget equals $109 million, and almost half that, $47.8 million, is for wages and new positions requested by the elected officials and department heads.

RELATED: How saying ‘no’ helped Butler County avoid a financial crisis

County Administrator Judi Boyko has recommended the commissioners approve a 1 percent hike to part of the commissioners’ pay-for-performance plan. Adopted several years ago, the two-part plan provides a pot of money equal to 2 percent of a department’s total wages for raises that are added to an employee’s base wage, based on performance. Another 2 percent is available for lump sum merit bonuses.

Boyko has suggested raising the lump sum pool of money to 3 percent for offices, departments, boards and unions that have adhered to the two-plus-two plan.

Boyko told the Journal-News county employees have contributed to the county’s financial success in recent years and with the general fund debt dropping to zero next year, the commissioners could afford to reward them. She said these pay bumps would serve as a “bridge” while another salary study is performed next year, to judge whether other salary adjustments are required.

Several years ago double-digit pay increases and multiple raises in a year nearly bankrupt the county, according to Commissioner Don Dixon. He said the two-part plan allows for quick budget adjustments if financial times warrant.

“We have to be reasonable and fair to our employees,” he said. “They helped right the financial situation, they did their part… It’s just part of the plan and the plan is working. Thanks to our office holders and thanks to our employees we’re able to do that. That’s what we told them we would do and that’s what we’ll do.”

County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser for years has tried to get raises for his assistant prosecutors he says are commensurate with other prosecutors’ offices and the defense attorneys they face in court. He is proposing an 11 percent raise ($9,873) for Brad Burress, who is now chief of his criminal division, which would bring his salary up to $89,760. He is also looking for 10 percent raises for four other attorneys and 8 percent hikes for two other assistant prosecutors.

“After about eight years I think it’s time, the budget seems to be making great strides towards being balanced, and I think the time is now to make a pitch for equivalent pay to what other counties are doing,” he said, adding “I don’t want to lose career prosecutors to the private sector.”

Earlier this year he gave Chief Assistant Prosecutor Dan Ferguson a 15 percent pay hike when he took over for retired chief Roger Gates. Ferguson now earns $112,000, and he “is worth every penny” Gmoser said.

Sheriff Richard Jones originally requested 23 extra people, due to jail and dispatch under-staffing, but pared the number down to 11 by the annual budget hearings. Those requests are included in the 2020 budget the commissioners are expected to approve Dec. 30.

Commissioner T.C Rogers said the adjustments and extra staff requests are necessary.

“Our most important reason for being here is the safety of our residents, and all this falls under that component,” Rogers said. “As we are the one of the fastest growing counties and with the amount of extra strain that the opioid crisis puts upon us which elevates crime, we have to deal with that.”

In addition to rewarding employees who have weathered the financial storm with the county, Boyko said increasing salaries has another cost benefit. When an employee leaves she said there is lost productivity while a position is vacant, there is a learning curve when someone new if hired and other direct and indirect costs.

“There is a cost to losing employees,” Boyko said. “When wage treatments have been below market for any significant length of time you start to lose a workforce and the cost of filling positions becomes significant.”

The Area Courts were one of the entities that exceeded the 2 percent pay increase directive, requesting 3 percent. Area III Court Judge Dan Haughey said competition prompted the higher budget figure. He said the court loses clerks frequently to other courts within the county and to the outside.

“It was essentially out of necessity to be able to keep our employees. Even with the increases the turnover for our court clerks is rampant with other county agencies,” Haughey said. “Area II we recently lost two of our clerks to the public defenders office. You know if we don’t pay as well as the public defender we’re not paying very well, by comparison.”

The Public Defenders Office was asking the commissioners to approve seven part-time public defenders and five full-time support staff. The state has promised to come through with additional reimbursement for the local programs. The counties have been promised 90 percent starting next July. Boyko is recommending four additional part-time public defenders and one full-time staffer, she said she wasn’t certain that many additional employees are necessary.

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter told the Journal-News she will push for the full staffing request.

“I’m going to weigh in in support of increasing the staff,” she said. “Because I do understand they are overwhelmed with the volume of work that they do. That is a place we shouldn’t cut so severely.”

Overall, Carpenter said she is pleased with the way the budget for next year is shaping up. A decade ago the county faced a $7 million budget gap, reserves that had dropped below $9 million in 2009 and seriously considered a 0.25 percent sales tax increase.

“I really feel we’re on our way to recovery and having our county finances be strong,” she said. “Putting us in a position where we’ll never have the devastation that we had during the Recession. We’re in a really good place.”

About the Author