Not all wages increase by consistent rate

Not all wages increase by consistent rate by David Lias The Clay County Commission agreed Jan. 5 to raise salaries for county employees for 1999.

The members' decisions, which covered a wide range of pay levels among various county department workers, weren't made unanimously, however.

Commissioner Paul Hasse voted against nearly every pay raise proposal brought before the county board.

In a telephone interview Monday, Hasse declined to make any formal statements about his decisions at the meeting, except to say that "many of the amounts (proposed) were not justified, and were eye opening.

"I opposed the large increases, especially with the low rate of inflation we've had," Hasse added. He stated that the annual inflation rate in Clay County is presently at about 1.5 percent.

Commissioners were presented wage data from Sheriff Dusty Passick as he proposed raises for his staff.

"Dusty presented graphs that showed the men's present wages, and where he thought they should be," County Auditor Ruth Brunick said. "He compared wages with nine other places in the state."

The commission agreed to raise the salary of part-time jailers from $6 per hour to $7.94 per hour. That's an increase of 32.3 percent. Full-time jailer wages were increased by 19 percent, from $7 per hour to $8.34 per hour. Head jailer Matt Broderson's pay was increased from $9.68 per hour to $12.20 per hour. That's an increase of 26 percent.

Chief Deputy Les Kephart will make $14.55 per hour in 1999. His salary was boosted by 10.8 percent from his 1998 pay of $13.13 per hour.

Sgt. Andy Howe's salary was increased by $1.97 per hour, from $11.49 to $13.46. That's an increase of 17.1 percent. Deputy Dallas Schnack's pay in 1998 was $10.58 per hour. This year, he will make $12.58 per hour, a raise in pay of 18.9 percent.

Passick's pay was increased by $50 per month.

Deputies and the head jailer working for Passick received a $50 per month cost of living raise in 1998.

Brunick said the larger raises to the sheriff department's employee shouldn't pose a financial hardship for the county.

"This was something that the department had budgeted for," Brunick said, "so the commission shouldn't be surprised. Dusty said he has the money in his budget for the pay raises, so he was prepared."

Among the 14 full- and part-time deputies and clerks employed by the county, the full-time clerks were granted raises of $600 per year. Part-time clerks received pay increases of $300 per year.

Clay County Highway Superintendent Art Leifgen, like Passick, received a $50 monthly pay increase. He requested that county department employees receive raises of 30 cents per hour.

David Wherry received an annual $700 pay increase as the county's welfare director, and an annual $700 pay increase for his work as the county's planning and zoning commissioner. The county took no action on his compensation as the county's veterans service officer, in part because other government funds are involved in his stipend for those duties.

Auditor Ruth Brunick, Treasurer Cathi Powell, and Register of Deeds Betty McCambridge each received pay increases of $100 per month. In 1999, they each will earn $27,000, which is an increase of approximately 4.6 percent.

Brunick, Powell, and McCambridge � all three elected officials � won't be making as much in 1999 as the commission promised, Brunick said.

"When they set salaries a year ago, they promised that this year, they would raise these salaries to the same level as the county assessor," she said.

Assessor Leonard Rasmussen hasn't been employed by the county for a full year yet. He began his duties here last fall, at a starting annual salary of $27,500.

"They (the commissioners) shorted us by $500 this year," Brunick said.

The annual pay of Clay County State's Attorney Tami Bern was increased from 1998's level of $49,434, to $50,034. The 1.2 percent increase in pay is the first raise she's received in two years.

The commissioners also decided to increase their own pay. Commission Chairman Jerry Sommervold's monthly pay increased from $720 per month to $745 month, a raise of 3.47 percent.

The four other commissioners � Ralph Westergaard, Todd Christensen, Gary Iverson and Hasse � will each receive $645 monthly compared to last year's $620 monthly pay. That's a pay increase of 4 percent.

"The county commissioners in Yankton get less pay than the commissioners here," Brunick said. "But the office heads in Clay County get paid less than those in Yankton County."

Many Clay County employees' pay raises for this year were consistent with the wage increase rate they received at the beginning of 1998. Back then, for example, Passick and Leifgen received $50 per month cost of living increases. Like this year, full-time office deputies, clerks and secretaries received $50 per month cost of living wage increases; part-time employees of similar classification received $25 per month cost of living wage increases.

The salary increases for the auditor, treasurer and register and deeds fell short this year of 1998's levels. Each of those three office holders received a $1,600 annual increase in pay in 1998. This year, they each were granted annual raises of $1,200.

"Generally, what we try to deal with is a cost of living increase based on 2.5 percent to 3 percent," Sommervold said. "We put some additional raises in some areas because we felt the need was there."

Turnover in some employee areas, such as part-time jailers that were receiving $6 per hour, was high, especially with new industry in Vermillion that offers better pay, he noted.

Both Sommervold and Brunick said the county will be taking a closer look at whether it is compensating its employees properly.

"We've just finished up on an employee handbook, and we're looking at a job classification program," Sommervold said. "We want to look at the whole county as far as job descriptions and job classifications are concerned. It's probably time to make some changes in that."

A sure sign that changes are needed, he said, is the fact that Clay County has been able to maintain the lowest unemployment rate in the state for a significant time now. That means good workers are harder and harder to find as they accept jobs with existing businesses.

"I think the philosophy that we're eventually going to have to look at will be one in which we try to be more competetive," Sommervold said.

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