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10:00 PM Thu, Jan. 17th

Pay hikes designed to attract and retain good employees, director says

In May of 2001, Mohave County Manager Ron Walker advised his three bosses - the county supervisors - against raising pay for a majority of the county employees because of the county's uncertain financial outlook.

However, the picture appears brighter now, and the supervisors on June 17 approved pay hikes averaging 11 percent for the fiscal year that began Monday.

Pay hikes range from 6 to 55 percent, depending on how pay for various jobs compared with 33 other jurisdictions.

The county last updated the pay scales in 1995-96, human resources director Geoff Riches said.

The supervisors based the raises on a market survey that compared county pay with that of the other jurisdictions, including nearby cities, rural counties and state agencies.

The survey also included private-sector employers such as utility companies and car dealers.

The human resources staff began work on the survey last fall and completed it before a budget workshop June 11.

The staff based the recommended pay hikes on the median of wages for comparable jobs at the surveyed employers.

The median is the point between the lowest and highest pay.

The pay hikes as well as increases in benefits for employees will cost an estimated $1.1 million from the general fund, according to a budget workshop document presented June 11.

Salaries and benefits accounted for $22.7 million from overall general fund spending of about $43.9 million for the fiscal year that ended Sunday.

Because the fiscal outlook brightened, the county also ended a hiring freeze on general fund positions a few weeks ago, Riches said.

Walker imposed the freeze March 28 with the intent of preparing a budget without increasing taxes.

With the freeze in place, Walker needed to sign off on filling positions.

Riches said, "We are still looking at vacant positions for abolishment."

The county has about 1,056 positions and is recruiting for about 100 openings, human resources supervisor Beth Cordes said.

The court system has about 17.5 vacancies out of about 200 jobs, according to Linda Yarbrough , the Mohave County Superior Court human resources director.

One of the reasons the county has been able to justify the pay hikes is a savings achieved by having so many vacancies, county Finance Director John Timko said.

In fact, the projected spending for salaries and benefits from the general fund for 2001-2002 is $2.5 million lower than budgeted because of the vacancies.

However, Timko said high turnover leads to higher costs in terms of lost work, training, recruitment and overtime.

He said the pay hikes are prudent because they were designed to retain and recruit qualified employees.

The higher wages will have a positive effect on the local economy because better-paid employees will have more money in their pockets, he added.

As the county's largest employer, county government is committed to paying a "fair wage," Timko said.

He defined the fair wage as the median paid for comparable jobs according to the survey.

"The story is, it is a market adjustment to position the county to be competitive for the best-qualified employees and to provide fair compensation for our employees," he said.

He said the range differences in pay for various jobs reflect how off the median county jobs are.

"We don't just take the number of job classifications," Timko said.

"Everybody moves from what they are (making) to what is fair."

County employees traditionally received inflation and merit increases.

That came to 6 percent during the 1999-2000 fiscal year, the last year a majority of the county employees received pay hikes.

Examples of how far county pay was off the median include:

• Six percent for a variety of job classifications that include administrative analysts, aircraft mechanic/pilot, appraiser I, assistant to the county manager, attorneys 1 and II, buyer and senior buyer, clerk to the county supervisors and deputy clerk, court collections officer, deputy probation officer II and senior officer, sheriff's deputy and education assistant.

• Ten percent classifications that include automotive mechanic and senior mechanic, chief appraiser, chief deputy sheriff, chief probation officer, community nutrition worker, administrators for both limited-jurisdiction and superior courts, cook, court security coordinator, elections assistant, equipment fleet manager, lieutenant-detective, park ranger and superintendents, planners I and II, public health specialist I, senior programs assistant, sergeant, surveyor and trades helper.

• Fifteen percent increases for classifications such as administrative assistant/.secretary, animal control officer and operations supervisor, senior appraiser, attorneys III and IV, community development director, county surveyor, detention center supervisor, elections director, engineering manager, executive secretary, human resources analyst and assistant, legal defender, library director, occupational health/wellness nurse, planning technician, program supervisor, public defender and teacher.

• Twenty percent hike for classifications such as administrative supervisor in probation, chief deputy clerk for Superior Court, chief deputy recorder, community services manager, facility/grounds manager and worker, human resources supervisor, office supervisor, payroll specialist, senior public safety dispatcher, site coordinator and supervisor, and workforce development manager.

• Twenty-five percent raises for accountant and senior accountant, assistant health director, automation program specialist, chief deputy treasurer, client services manager, senior computer services coordinator, detention center administrator, drafting specialist and senior specialist, emergency management coordinator, grants coordination specialist, improvement district supervisor, library manager, network services manager, plans examiner and public health nurse practitioner.

• Thirty percent raises go to classifications such as administrative supervisor in the sheriff's office, chief deputy assessor and the county manager.

• Thirty-five percent hikes are going to classifications such as civil engineer and nursing services manager.

• A 45 percent raise earmarked for the procurement/central services manager.

• Forty-five percent raises approved for the parks administrator and public fiduciary.

• A 55 percent pay hike for the communications manager.

Timko said sheriff's deputies will receive only a 6 percent increase because they previously earned a market adjustment.

The deputies received a 3 percent market adjustment plus a 38-cent increase in their hourly wages during 1997-98, Cordes said.

The deputies would have received a 9 percent pay hike for this and the next fiscal year had voters approved the sheriff's override during the May 21 special election.

Sheriff Tom Sheahan backed the override - a secondary property tax - with the intent of raising wages to recruit and retain, pay for replacing aging vehicles and buying equipment.

Voters rejected the override by a wide margin.