From the Desk Of
County Judge Tom D. Bonn
There is absolutely no question that the salaries of Caldwell County employees are too low. This occurs across the board in most all job positions. We have to raise these salaries to an appropriate level to retain them. Turnover is always more costly than paying a decent and competitive wage. As our new salary plan becomes competitive the demand for employments and tenure will prevail.
During my first budget, I proposed, and the Commissioner Court approved, the largest salary increase in any one year for Caldwell County. The raise was $1,600 per employee per year. There was much discussion concerning making the increase greater.
The first question most people ask is how did the County end up with such low wages for employees? At the same time that salary increases were not being given our reserves have been built to almost $6 million during the last ten years. Everyone has heard the standard reply, “We are a poor county,” and without any further discussion, the expectation withers.
Last year a $900 raise was given each employee, while $1.2 million was added to our reserves. That adopted budget projected a deficit. This has been the pattern of previous budgets. One should not miscalculate a budget by $1.2 million in a given year!
During this last budget, I was loudly criticized for proposing only a $1,600 raise (largest salary increase ever given to our employees in one year). It is ironic to see certain commissioners arguing for a larger raise, when they sat on the court while it built up the $6,000,000 in reserves off the backs of our employees.
Criticized for not giving a larger raise, I explained that a review of the county finances as this fiscal year progressed would be conducted. If we could, an additional raise mid-year would be given for the first time ever in our county. At that time, it would depend on actual collected revenues compared to our adopted budget estimate. If revenues beat estimates, I would propose the mid-year raise.
After four months (one-third) of the fiscal year, our sales tax receipts exceeded estimates by 19 percent, totaling $76,000. With this good report I will propose an additional $500 per year raise starting April 1, 2012. This raise proposal will be on the agenda for the commissioners meeting Feb. 27, next Monday. No fooling, it will be effective April 1.
My target was to make this a $1,000 annual raise, but Federal prisoner revenue is on a declining trend according to revenue reports received. Sound government will prevail when dealing with our tax dollars. Statutes do not allow elected officials salaries to be changed after adoption of the annual budget, thus they are not eligible for this increase.
The Human Resources Department Manager, Deborah Kortan has been instructed to continue with the five-year salary plan study. The plan will be presented in a timely manner to allow Commissioner Court approval with employee raises considered first with future budgets.
Also placed on the Feb. 27 agenda will be a budget amendment to transfer up to $625,000 from county reserves to fully fund their retirement account. Past administrations built county reserves but failed to keep the retirement account 100 percent funded. The county fell behind by approximately $625,000.00 in its contribution to this fund.
As your chief budget officer of the county, I will insist that the retirement fund be maintained at a 100 percent-funded level. This is as important as competitive salaries for employees.
The most important thing relative to increasing our wages is to present honest budgets to the Commissioner Court for adoption. Some members of the court will suggest they had no idea that the county was building reserves and not allowing for raises. There is plenty of blame to go around for not increasing employee salaries over the years, but the time has come to be honest with the taxpayer and employees of Caldwell County.