More county employees are speaking out against the finalized budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, specifically the salary portion.
"We've sat around quietly and let this go on long enough. It's gotten ugly and it's time to put a stop to it," said Susy Warren, County Court at Law administrator. "Its time to stop getting pushed around and push back. After (judge) Bart McDougal met with (county judge) Tab (Thompson), I got my raise and I'm grateful. But what's going on isn't right and someone needs to speak up for those who can't. That's what I feel like a few of us are doing right now."
Warren and others in various departments say the salary issues are nothing new.
"This situation places us all in strained relations. I've been told some of the county employees might want to protest, but it won't do any good. It's too late for this year," said one elected official who asked not to be named. "All we can do is work toward fixing it for next year. It's all just a bunch of bull that some of us don't have time for, but we have to protect our employees."
Some county employees and a few department heads are upset with what they call salary disparities in various departments. And while the county says its new system is an attempt to level the playing field, making the salaries more comparable across the board, employees say that isn't what happened.
"Get a copy of the budget. Compare the raises given to employees in the departments who were working on the budget to those in other departments. See how equal they are," one employee said. "There are two employees splitting an $11,000 raise in the auditors office when there are employees in other departments with more than twice the experience, overseeing more people who are getting less than a fourth of that amount."
When Warren's boss, Judge Bart McDougal, first looked at the budget, she was receiving a less than $500 raise, she said, adding that a copy of the budget was only provided to her department following a request to see it before commissioners voted.
"These changes were supposed to equalize the salaries, but that's not even close to what happened," she said. "There is only one other employee for the county that has a similar job to myself and she makes $15,000 more than me. Now, I know she has a lot on her plate and she deserves what she makes, but the salaries are not even close and the differences in our jobs are not $15,000 worth of different."
Some county elected officials say they were not given a chance to discuss salary options with anyone before employees were assigned to a pay grade under the new system.
And some say department heads were not informed there would be raises given until less than three weeks before the final budget was voted on by commissioners. Several department heads have also said once they were made aware of the step raises, they were told they were not allowed to make changes to decisions already made on pay grade placement.
However, County Judge Tab Thompson disagreed with the fact that employees and elected officials did not know what was coming.
"What's so frustrating about this whole deal is that long before the budget process began, I met with all the elected officials and told them we were going to a different system and this would be an abnormal year as far as salaries were concerned," he said. "There wasn't anyone who didn't know this was going to happen. And there are a lot of employees who benefited from these changes, but they're not the ones you're going to hear from."
Department heads have provided copies of a memo sent out from the county auditor's office and Thompson informing elected officials they were not to figure salaries in their budgets.
"There is no need for you to calculate the salary of fringe benefit budget for employees," the memo, dated May 17, stated. "These will be calculated by the Treasurer and Auditor offices."
County employees say department heads were not informed of the salary increases nor were they presented any proposed salaries at the time of their budget meetings. According to several sources within the county, department heads were first informed of salary increases during the short executive session following the regular commissioners' meeting earlier this month.
"They handed us a copy of the new step increases and a full copy of the proposed increases broken down by offices," the source said. "Since they were proposed, they made us hand in the proposed figures. They did not want anyone to go out and compare the different office salaries. I found out now that the only reason for the meeting was because some of the changes had leaked out and some people were pretty upset. We, at no time, received a memo about the proposed changes. We probably had a total of 10 minutes to look at the proposal before it was taken out of our hands and we were dismissed."
Warren said office holders were told they could not go in and change the title or pay grade their employees were put in, while those department heads making the changes moved their employees to a higher level.
"Department heads were told they can't go in and change pay grades to give employees raises when that's exactly what was happening in those departments," Warren said. "It's ugly. I got a nice raise, but a lot of people didn't. It's just wrong and it needs to stop. People aren't going to speak out because of the fear of retaliation, but not me. I've been here for 20 years and working for the county for 32. I could retire right now."
Donna Kelly, county treasurer, said Wednesday that she and Janet Martin, county auditor, met with commissioners and Thompson, who is the budgetary officer for the county and they met with any department head who wished to meet about the budget. Thompson agreed with Kelly and Martin, saying there were only a few who set meetings to discuss their budgets for the new year.
"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."
But some county employees say more needs to be done before next year's budget process begins.
"Several department heads are meeting with county officials, but it's already too late for this year," said one source. "All we can do is work together to improve the situation for the coming year."
Thompson agreed, saying he didn't see many changes in the budgeting process this year from last, but that he hoped all county employees and elected officials could work to make the system better.
"There were several adjustments to the system this year and we warned people that it would be all over the place until we got it figured out," Thompson said. "I felt like we did a good job with everything we had to work with and we gave elected officials opportunities to have their voice heard on this. We understand that employees are upset when it comes to salaries, but the department heads and elected officials will have the chance to work with us to make next year better. I feel like we have a good process in place. We just have to move forward and work together to make it better."