County officials are working to repair relationships with employees who are upset about recent salary increases.
"We understand this has been difficult. It has been a long and tedious process for us as well. It hasn't been an easy thing," Treasurer Donna Kelly said Monday. "But there had to be a starting point and we have every intention of continuing to work with everyone to make the system better and run more smoothly in the future."
One of the major points of contention centered around memos sent to department heads during budget season instructing them not to include calculations for salary or fringe benefits. It was a move Janet Martin, county auditor, said is not uncommon.
Martin provided copies of budget memos from 2010, 2011 and 2012, which all stated something similar. Officials said it was done in an attempt to keep salaries equalized and uniform, which was not always the case.
While some departments received fines and fees and others received state and federal funds, others received nothing. County officials said when they met with a human resources specialist earlier this year, one of the major recommendations for improvement by the county included a new pay grade system. It is also important to note that all non-attorney elected officials in Erath County will not receive a raise this year.
Kelly said the specialist suggested the county work on a new scale for salaries that included new grade classifications and steps within the grades. Kelly and Thompson said there were a number of employees who had topped out and hadn't received a raise in several years. The new system is an attempt to help the county employees, not hinder them, she said.
"This was an attempt, as in every year, to do the best we can for the employees of this county," said Judge Tab Thompson. " I'm sure every department head would love to give their employees huge raises, but that's not always possible. But we also have to keep in mind that we do all of this within the constrains of the taxpayers' money, and we only have so much to work with for the county as a whole."
Some employees were also upset about salary increases for two employees in the auditor's office.
"I have listed two employees in assistant auditors positions and the funds for that position was increased by $11,155.17, but that's not a raise to be split between two employees," Martin explained. "We had an assistant auditor and a clerk, but the clerk was terminated several weeks ago. The prospective new employee to fill that position is a degreed accountant with eight years of experience in fund accounting. This is a significant change in the skill level of the person in that position so the salary has changed. It would be simply impossible to give that kind of raise."
Martin said longevity is also figured a little differently than in years past. Under the new system, consideration was given to experience, the talent level of the employee and what they bring to the county.
"Though we really didn't change much in the way of salary planning and budget discussions with department heads this year, we are going to start working with those people earlier next year in an attempt to head this kind of situation off in the future," Thompson said. "We set out to equalize the salaries across departments in the county, and we are taking steps in that direction. No, everything isn't perfect yet, but I feel like we're getting there."
Officials say they did not set out to hurt employees' feelings and are working to perfect a complicated system.
"We're trying our absolute best to do what is best for the county," Kelly concluded. "There are a lot of changes this year, and it's not going to be an easy year, trying to get everything with the state and federal laws in place, the new healthcare policies and the changes to the salary system, there will be a lot of bumps, but we are trying to make this go as smoothly as we can."