By Julie Ann Madden
After nearly two hours of discussion, Union County Commissioners agreed to give each department a lump sum to increase employees’ salaries for 2013.
Commissioner Milton Ustad originally made a motion to give each department $400 per full-time employee and $200 per each part-time employee, excluding the department heads. Commissioner Dale Neely seconded it.
There was some concern department heads would not use it to reduce the disparity between Union County employees’ low wages and other counties’ salaries.
There had been a few issues when the commissioners had given department heads $500 and $250 in the same respective manner three years ago. Department heads had the full authority to divvy up the money any way they wanted within their department.
“We did this three years ago, and obviously this didn’t do squat,” said Commissioner Ross Jordan.
“I think it helped but didn’t fix the problem,” said Union County States Attorney Jerry Miller who had started the salary discussion, noting his employees had as much as 44 percent pay disparity with employees in the same comparable job positions, based on work load and location, in Beadle, Brookings, Clay, Codington, Davidson, Hughes, Lake, Lawrence, Lincoln, Meade, and Roberts counties.
Then Jordan brought complete silence to the room when he suggested doubling the amounts to $800 and $400.
Commission Chairperson Doyle Karpen asked Ustad to rescind his motion so the commissioners could have a five-minute recess to digest the information and use the rest room. Upon reopening the meeting, Karpen noted the full-time equivalent amounts would total: $400 = $26,500; $500 = $37,000; $600 = $44,500; $700 = $52,000 and $800 = $60,000.
“If this motion passes a strong message needs to be sent to the department heads, we’re going to need their support to rollback all other expenses to help pay for this,” said Jordan. “Again, there is no more money.”
“It’s a team effort,” said Karpen who had angrily cut off Miller as soon as he had begun his appeal for equal treatment of all employees, reminding commissioners they had given a weed sprayer a 21 percent salary increase earlier this year. Then several other department heads had been able to get employees’ higher salaries but not all. Union County Treasurer Myron Hertel’s request was turned down and both the requests of Union County Register of Deeds Jana Foltz and Miller were turned down last year.
Jordan said this meant the commissioners were letting department heads take 2012 unspent monies and increase employees’ salaries.
“This is next year’s monies,” he said. “It’s not in the 2013 budget (which was approved in September). We’ll have to use Contingency funds.”
“I think this has to be very clear, this is not a gift,” said Jordan. “It’s a cooperative effort between the Commission making the agreement to pay it and the department heads saying they can manage their departments below their budgets to make this a reality.”
Ustad motioned to have the same wording but change the amounts to $700 and $350, and Commissioner Marvin Schempp seconded it. The vote was unanimous.
Auditor Carol Klumper requested department heads provide her a list of their employees’ new 2013 salaries. Hourly employees will receive the new rate Jan. 6.
This salary increase is separate from the 3 percent salary increase department heads were allowed to calculate in their 2013 salary budgets for each employee. Whether the commission will grant this 3 percent will be decided at their Dec. 27 meeting.
This money doesn’t mean every employee will receive $700 or $350. Department heads have the authority to disburse it how they see fit. The same will apply to any percentage increase commissioners authorize.