County wage increase stagnates in tie vote

The first formal vote on whether to raise the salaries of 218 Bartholomew County employees to the average or mid-wage salary of those doing the same job in other counties failed Tuesday night, stalling in a tie.

Three Bartholomew County Council members, Mark Gorbett, Scott Bonnell and Jorge Morales, voted to raise the salaries of nearly half of all county employees to the external median salaries described in a study by consultant Kent Irwin.

But board chairman Greg Duke, along with members Evelyn Pence and Bill Lentz, voted against the proposal.

With board member Matt Miller absent, Tuesday’s 3-3 tied vote means the proposal is only stalled for now, Gorbett said.

“I don’t want employees to think it’s dead,” Gorbett said. “The council sometimes takes time to get people to the water to drink it.”

However, if another vote takes place in May or June, Miller is likely to vote against the increases, Morales said. He based that statement on the fact that Miller initiated an intense verbal confrontation with Irwin when the study was originally presented to the board in late February.

The county, which employs more than 400 people, has already lost 22 employees so far this year. In 2021, the total was 70 employees. Irwin said administrators told him that “low compensation for employees negatively impacts their ability to hire and retain quality employees.”

The council set aside $1 million to address this type of wage disparity last year. That’s more than enough to cover the $404,589 cost of implementing Irwin’s recommendations, county officials said.

But Lentz says he thinks Irwin’s study shows several flaws, so he “just wants to see that department heads agree 100% with what this company thinks.”

While Duke also pointed to perceived errors, Irwin responded this week that questions and comments from elected and appointed trustees are “normal and expected after such studies.” Irwin’s memo also provides instructions on how the county auditor’s office can make the requested adjustments after its recommended increases are passed.

Deputy Chief Auditor Dalene Pattingill said she was open to meeting with county administrators on perceived errors with the aim of resolving any perceived confusion and publicly reporting her findings to council next month.

In contrast, Duke recommended that different board members be assigned to different department heads to discuss concerns in a private setting.

But Bartholomew County Recorder Tami Hines said department heads have already provided written responses to Irwin’s reports. She also said that while Lentz and others have talked about having discussions with department heads, no one on the board has made the effort to speak to her in the seven weeks since Irwin submitted his study.

“The point of the study is that (many) county employees are hard-working and underpaid,” Hines said. “This study, even with errors, confirmed what you, as counsel, suspected. So I don’t understand, when you’ve already put money aside, why you want to keep pushing that down.

The effort to bring wages for underpaid workers to Irwin’s recommended median levels is comparable to when the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department raised wages to parity with the Columbus Police Department, the city said. county treasurer, Barb Hackman. Substantial pay raises were then approved for information technology personnel and emergency dispatchers to prevent an exodus of quality workers from leaving their jobs in the county.

Hackman also said inflation and dramatically higher insurance premiums have eaten away at general employee increases of 3% this year.

“Employees are talking about it and county employee morale is very low,” Hackman said. “Now you have a study done by a professional consulting firm that works with over 70 Indiana counties and includes county government. Their result is that our county employees are underpaid.

While county assessor Ginny Whipple says she doesn’t believe her staff are preparing to leave, there is still a danger that could arise – “especially since they have certifications that they can bring to other places and earn a lot more money”. said Whipple.

Although the appraiser says long-serving employees in his office are adequately paid, “others are grossly underpaid and some are at the low end of where they should be,” the appraiser said.

But on the other side of the issue, the strongest rhetoric against Irwin’s salary recommendations has come from Duke.

“I’m not willing to cede my judgment to an entrepreneur,” Duke said. “No matter how good the intentions, no matter how good the research, the fact is that we (as the county council) have to make the decision.”

When Duke said he felt compelled to use his best judgment and not sign Irwin’s salary study, his words drew a strong response from Morales.

“Let’s figure something out,” Morales said. “From the start, you were against it. Now I hear you saying that you are not prepared to accept a professional assessment in favor of your intuition – even though in the past every manager has told us so and we have been aware that our employees have been underpaid.

While Duke acknowledged a desire to remove politics and personalities from decisions about who gets raises, he insisted the board should accept responsibility for doing the work itself.

“When someone comes to me and complains that the experts say they should get a raise, I’m not going to hide behind that study,” Duke said. “The experts are not sitting here making these decisions. We have to live with our decisions. I prefer to live with my good judgment or my mistakes, whatever it is.

Morales replied, “I wish I could understand how you are going to tell employees who have been underpaid that we are able to make this decision against a professional recommendation that we have requested and paid for. How are you going to reconcile that? he asked Duke.

William M. Mayer