Some county employees are ticked off, and with the unanimous approval of the county's budget Wednesday morning, a few are speaking out.
"I understand that figuring out the pay scale was a long and daunting task," said Susy Warren, county court at law administrator. "I'm just saying it could have been easier on them if they would've spoken to the elected officials in charge of the employees."
One county employee who spoke during the public hearing said one of his employees is a single mother of two, and with her meager pay would qualify for food stamps and other government assistance. He said he worried that even with the raise of just over $1,000, the employee would still fall into that bracket.
Warren and others said the process leading up to the approval of the budget was different from years past. They say the county auditor and county treasurer met with some of the department heads, but not all, before deciding on a pay scale for all county employees.
However, Donna Kelly, county treasurer, said her office was tasked with assigning employees to the new pay system and they sent out memos to all elected officials asking to set meetings if they wished to discuss their budgets, including employee salaries, before the final budget was set.
"We have 175 employees working for the county and it was a very long and tedious process," Kelly said. "We looked at the current pay scale and job titles, and compared those to similar positions in counties in the area, and some statewide, to try and be fair."
Frustrated employees spoke out during Wednesday's public hearing on the budget and tax rate for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
"I'm just trying to understand how the county pay scale works," said Kent Howell, of the county's pre-trial investigation department. "For example, my pay is equal to that of some of the county's heavy equipment operators and the person I consider my chief deputy was classified as a secretary. I am just trying to understand how you decided those pay grades without meeting with anyone in my department."
Kelly said she and Janet Martin, county auditor, met with commissioners and Judge Tab Thompson, who is the elected official over Howell's department.
Thompson said elected officials are sent budget requests with copies of the previous year's budget for their department. They have the opportunity to go over the budget and make changes before resubmitting the budget for the new fiscal year. Those officials then have the opportunity to meet with county officials to discuss the budgets if they choose to.
The budget is another source of contention for upset employees. According to Warren, county departments were not provided with copies of the potential budget until it was days away from being finalized. Warren said her supervisor Judge Bart McDougal had to request a copy.
"This year the county decided to revise the steps, or raises, to our salaries and they did so without meeting with all the elected officials who supervise those employees," Warren said. "It was done with no input from the people directly over those employees and that's concerning to many of us. It was a shock to learn that a pre-trial assistant was classified as a secretary, as was an employee who is in charge of the crimes victims program. I know it was a daunting task, but I believe it could have been far easier if they would have met with everyone involved."
The county's $18,654,561.71 budget for the new fiscal year was approved by a unanimous vote.
"The task of holding these salaries to a reasonable level while still remaining competitive is a difficult one," Thompson said following the vote. "A lot of thought and deliberation goes into trying to make those salaries and raises fair and equitable. It's a long and tedious process to set the tax rate and the new budget each year."
Commissioners also approved the $0.47 per $100 evaluation tax rate for the fiscal year - the same rate as last year. Thompson said the county will see an increase in taxes this year based on the increase of improvements and new additions to properties in the county.
Tax assessor/collector Jennifer Carey said with the county's new improvement values of more than $70 million, the county will see an increase of $431,513 in the budget. She also said county officials estimate a tax collection rate of 96 percent for the year.