Employees say raise is really a cut, some clerks below poverty
County budgetary woes will be felt at a personal level this July when county employees begin living with the 1-percent increase in pay approved Tuesday by the Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors, an increase some employees said was more like a cut in pay.
Although the compensation board had advised supervisors to give elected officials a 3 percent raise, supervisor Lorna Burnside made a motion for only a 1 percent increase, effective July 1, 2004.
The secondary road wage committee was present as were other elected officials. Roads workers, who had previously requested a 3 percent raise, asked the board to consider a 2.4-percent increase, which is the cost of living rate of increase. But to no avail.
The 1% motion was approved on a 3-2 vote with board chair Herb Crampton, Dick Vail and Burnside voting aye, Jim Gustafson and Bill Lanphere, nay. Gustafson said he voted against it because he wasn't ready to vote on the pay motion as cuts in the budget have not yet been fully addressed.
During the discussion of the motion, Lanphere said that the board has been reviewing the budget for the last couple of weeks and asked "are we ready to discuss layoffs and reductions in labor?"
"We are actually approving a 4 1/2 increase just by paying the basic insurance," Lanphere said. "It's been hard work, looking at the county budget, and we've looked in every nook and cranny for more money."
The wage increase applies to elected officials in the various departments of the county, including the supervisors themselves. The salary of other workers in the offices are often based on a percentage of the department head's salary, so the minimal wage hike gets passed on.
The 4 1/2-percent increase Lanphere referred to was the projected 30-percent, or more, increase in health benefit costs for the county. The county pays 100 percent of an employee's benefits and 50 percent of an employee's family benefits.
Crampton said that last Friday during the board's budget discussions "we got to the bottom of the barrel."
"The insurance hasn't come through yet," he said. "And we're hoping we can do something down the line.
"I hate to give nothing to the employees, but I hope you remember, many counties are giving nothing."
Which elicited a comment from Dennis Graesing, a secondary roads worker.
"How do you justify a 1-percent increase when our health insurance costs are rising and everything else, like fuel and groceries, is going up," Graesing said. "You cut our wages with that increase when we still have to pay our families' health insurance."
Vail said he wondered why people weren't complaining about the schools' funding.
"The tax gets raised for schools, 5-6 percent, and nobody complains," he said.
Burnside said she knew the increase wasn't a lot and that the county employees' workloads were only increasing.
Although, there are significant increases to the county budget that appear to have no solution as Gustafson pointed out.
"We have to do something," he said. "Right here (holding up a piece of paper) I have a bill for $15,000 for adults housed (jailed) outside of our county.
"I know you have no control of that, but neither do we. We're being bled dry by things like this, with shelter care and juvenile detention. The state has shoved a lot of cost on counties."
Lanphere said employees should look at the private sector and note that there aren't any raises happening out there either.
Both Lanphere and Vail wanted to discuss other ways to cut costs at the county.
"What about capping medical benefits?" Lanphere asked. "Or putting some back on the employees? We're all in this together."
Vail wondered about closing the courthouse Friday afternoons but that got little response.
In the outside world, companies are beginning to eliminate health insurance, Lanphere said. He also asked rhetorically if the county should cut back on plowing roads.
County treasurer Kathy Bach, who was present at the meeting, told the board of supervisors that it was not fair that the employees would have to wait at least 18 months before they would look at any increase.
"I have clerks who are working below poverty rates, trying a raise a family," Bach said. "Now they'll have to wait until July 2005 before there's any chance of a raise."
Bach further addressed the issue Wednesday at the courthouse, saying the 1-percent increase was an insult to the employees of Buena Vista County.
"It's not like our work load has decreased," she said. "We took in a whole new department with the addition of the drivers license station. The comp board recognized that and that we are the greatest asset the county has."
The comp board is made up of people from all parts of the community, Bach said, and, she added it recognized the need to give the employees enough of a raise to keep up with the cost of living.
Crampton ended discussion following the vote by saying he was sorry the board couldn't give the employees more but 1 percent was better than nothing.
"We know you work hard and everyone is grateful for that," he said. "We want to keep you as happy as possible, but we don't have the money to give you any more than this."