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6:53 AM Mon, Sept. 24th

Cap on merit raises removed for county employees

Must receive an ‘exceeds’ on performance evaluation to be eligible

Annual merit raises for the 1,700 Yavapai County employees is one way they receive salary increases, as decided by their “appointing authority,” usually the department head. Yavapai County supervisors removed a 3 percent cap per individual instituted two years ago in an effort to reduce “compression” issues, a situation where a new employee might start at a higher salary than an employee who has worked for four or five years in the same position.

Cost-of-living raises are a separate issue, and supervisors did not discuss them.

The supervisors voted 3-2 at their Sept. 5 meeting to approve changes in the policy that remove the 3 percent maximum raise. Vice Chair Randy Garrison and Supervisor Craig Brown opposed the changes.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, with the county attorney’s office the past 17 years, urged supervisors to get rid of the cap and go back to the way it used to be. “Merit money is a management tool for department directors,” she said.

The board previously discussed merit raises at its Aug. 1 study session. It requested a period for comments from employees on what they preferred.

Merit raises, also referred to as pay-for-performance, are based on employees’ annual performance appraisals. Each department receives the same amount of points per individual in the division, and the appointing authority distributes those points to eligible employees within the department. The cap prohibited one employee receiving a 10 percent raise while others receive 2 percent, said Supervisor Jack Smith during the study session.

Sheriff Scott Mascher told the board he had never seen merit raises abused in the past. He said in order for compression issues to be alleviated, merit raises must occur every year.

“Merit raises are the only way to move up on the steps for an increase,” Human Resources Director Wendy Ross agreed. “It may happen that a new Step 1 supervisor earns what a 30-year employee makes.”

A 1 percent raise is equal to one step on the salary scale; 5 percent separates each pay range.

While County Administrator Phil Bourdon liked a 5 percent cap, Ross said she preferred 6 percent cap as that would provide a meaningful difference between a “meets” and “exceeds” rating on performance evaluations.

“A pay for performance is a good thing,” she said, adding that it helps attract, retain, reward, and increase performance at a higher level. In the first five years of her 16 with Human Resources, she said there were no compression issues because merit raises were given out each year. Since 2007, the county has given only two merit raises, and that’s when the compression issues began.

This past month, employees weighed in on two choices, with half supporting a 6 percent cap and half wanting no cap; one person wanted everyone to get an increase.

Garrison stated his concern that a 4 percent raise equals a whole step in compensation; to eliminate a cap would do damage to the system the county just worked on, he said.

Brown said the county continues to have a compression problem with salaries. An employee might get a raise for a “stellar year,” and the raise sticks with the employee for the rest of his or her tenure no matter the performance in later years.

“I don’t see merit raises as a plus; it’s a minus,” Brown said.

The motion to eliminate the cap also included that merit raises are based on performance evaluations, and the board will revisit the issue July 1, 2020. The supervisors approved the motion 3-2, with Garrison and Brown opposing.

In other action, the board approved:

• The purchase of a Class 8 dump truck, plow and sander for $587,990.

• The sale of K-9 “Cyrus” to its handler, John Bounds, for $1.

• A part-time position to provide oversight of Title 36 services by Pronghorn Psychiatric.

• A Citizen’s Academy to begin in late January 2019.

Follow Sue Tone on Twitter @ToneNotes. Reach her at stone@prescottaz.com or 928-445-3333, ext. 2043.