The Blaine County commissioners included a 1.5 percent pay raise for all employees in a preliminary budget Wednesday, with employees getting the opportunity to obtain merit-based raises as well.
County Human Resources Generalist Susan Potucek had presented the commissioners with three options for adjusting employee salaries on Tuesday. The first included a 1.5 percent market adjustment for all employees, the second included a 1 percent and the last had no market rate adjustment and only awarded raises based on merit and experience.
However, Potucek lobbied for a countywide increase, saying prices have risen even as salaries have not.
"Food, gas, housing, that's all increased," she said. "For us to stay competitive, we also need to make adjustments."
County Clerk JoLynn Drage pointed out that over the past four years, county employees—a group that does not include elected officials—only received a 1 percent increase in salaries.
Merit increases for some employees were included in all plans, ranging from 1 percent of the current salary budget to 1.5 percent.
Potucek said all employees will be eligible for these increases, but the raises will be awarded based on performance as part of the county's new performance management system. The cost to the county would range from $85,000 to $125,500.
County Administrator Derek Voss said that while there isn't currently a plan to allocate those funds, employees with exemplary performance could receive much more than a 1 percent raise, while others may see nothing.
While Commissioner Tom Bowman said he could not commit to the raises without seeing the entire budget, Commissioners Angenie McCleary and Larry Schoen said they supported the increases, especially the merit-based raises.
"We're going to be effective in [implementing performance measurement], and a tool to do so is to have that merit pool associated with performance," McCleary said.
Schoen said salaries have not kept up with rising costs, and he supported a 1.5 percent market rate increase and a 1 percent merit pool.
"That market adjustment is warranted, and we're talking about a difference of $40,000 between 1 and a 1.5 percent," he said.
Several other departments are up for a 1 percent raise in addition to the countywide increases, due to cross-training that resulted in more responsibilities and better customer service.
County Clerk JoLynn Drage said the training was time-consuming but has resulted in more efficient service in the Recorder's Office and in indigent services.
The increase has been placed in a preliminary budget, but the commissioners said it may not be approved.
"I'm fairly sure we're going to have to backtrack on some of what we've talked about so far," Schoen said.
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Despite the discovery of $200,000 in reserves, County Clerk JoLynn Drage said during a county meeting Wednesday that Blaine Manor will only have 10 and a half months of operating expenses before money from the Blaine Manor levy runs out.
"I don't see their books, so if they reduce expenses, there might be more money available," she said.
Drage said her earlier estimate that the manor would need to find nearly $500,000 was based on numbers that did not include $200,000 in cash reserves.
"If everything basically straight-lines, you are looking at 10 months," she said. "Last time, it looked like six."