PRESCOTT - Most Yavapai County supervisors agreed Tuesday that county employees deserve more money, but it's early in the annual budgeting process so they aren't sure how much more they can afford to give them.
The county has approximately 1,700 employees including 1,395 full-time workers.
They've had merit raises or cost-of-living allowances (COLAs) only one time since 2008. Social Security COLAs added up to 12.6 percent since then.
"The (Arizona) Legislature just swept funds from us left and right" during the economic recession, Supervisor Tom Thurman said. "It was tough for us."
County employees got a 2 percent COLA in 2012 and some received merit increases. A 1 percent COLA would cost the county about $591,000.
In 2012 the supervisors appropriated 2.6 points per eligible employee in the merit system, with each point equating to a 1 percent raise or one-step increase on the county pay scale. Department heads then distributed the points as they saw fit. Doing this again would cost the county an estimated $928,000.
During their first day of meetings with every department head Tuesday, the supervisors reviewed three options presented by Human Resources Director Wendy Ross.
The third option is allocating raises in a way to reduce "compression" problems created by the lack of raises in recent years. New hires are sometimes getting the same salaries as five-year employees, Ross said.
Her proposal states employees working for the county 2-4 years could get a 1 percent raise, those working 4-6 years could get 2 percent, and those at the county more than six years could get 3 percent. That would cost about $993,000.
Compression raises also would reward loyalty, Ross noted.
Supervisor Chip Davis said the supervisors need to do something about the compression and COLA issues.
"This is my top priority," he said, adding that an organization is only as good as its people.
Supervisor Tom Thurman said he'd like to grant a 2 percent COLA and compression raises, but he's not sure the county can afford it.
"I completely agree we need to do something," Supervisor Jack Smith said, but supervisors have to figure out how much money is available first. He praised employees for their "dedication and service."
County revenues for the coming year are projected to exceed the current year, but department heads also are seeking extra money for other things such as new employees and equipment. The county hasn't released its total estimated revenues for the coming fiscal year. Last year's budget was $191 million.
Ross said it would be great to do all three types of pay increases, but if the supervisors do only one, she recommends the COLA.
She noted that the two bottom ranges in the county pay scale are below minimum wage, so the county can't even use them.
The COLA also would help recruitment, she said.
Supervisors continue their budget talks with department heads every day through Friday.
They praised County Administrator Phil Bourdon and other county staff Tuesday for explaining line-item changes in an extra column next to the changes.
"It was meant to solve some of the questions early on," Bourdon said.
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