Hed Lines: A rumor of pay hikes

I bumped into a Mohave County government employee while I was using the fitness trail at Centennial Park a few weeks ago.

He told me that he heard a rumor that the county employees would get a raise in the new fiscal year, which starts July 1.

A majority of the estimated 900 employees have gone without raises since the fiscal year ending June 30, 2000.

John Timko, the county's finance director, confirmed later in the week that there was more to the rumor.

In fact, the supervisors on June 11 conducted a budget workshop on a financial plan for the upcoming fiscal year that, among other things, called for raising salaries an average of about 12 percent.

That may sound high.

However, Timko stressed that pay hikes would amount to about 4 percent when one factors in two fiscal years in which employees went without seeing their paychecks increase.

I talked to some county employees after the board workshop, and their reaction ranged from disbelief to cynicism.

At best, their response was that they would not believe it until they saw it on their paychecks.

A Superior Court employee said, "I don't know what you are talking about."

The supervisors followed suit Monday by voting 2-1 to grant raises.

Supervisor Buster Johnson cast the sole "no" vote, saying that he wanted any raises to be part of the budget process.

Several department heads spoke out Monday in favor of the proposal.

They cited the loss of key personnel who jumped ship and now make thousands of dollars more a year.

Contacted after the board vote, Information Technology Director Mike Matthews issued a bland statement.

"I think they did the right thing for the right reasons," he said.

A finance employee sounded more upbeat.

She laughed and answered my question with a question, "Wouldn't you be happy?"

Some members of the public are unhappy campers.

Area residents making $8 or $9 an hour and retirees on modest fixed incomes are unlikely to speak out at county supervisors' meetings to urge the board to pay county employees better.

Their resentment is understandable.

I recall being grossly underpaid at other newspapers and going without raises for two years or longer.

Many retirees chose the Kingman area in part because taxes are lower than elsewhere.

Human nature being what it is, they complain about their roads and about sheriff's deputies taking too long to respond to phone calls, but they are reluctant to pay more for the services.

They and other voters sent a message to elected officials May 21 by defeating the proposed override for the sheriff's office – a seven-year property tax – by a wide margin.

During the meeting in Lake Havasu City on Monday, some people in the audience criticized County Manager Ron Walker for being eligible for a 30 percent raise.

Supervisor Pete Byers defended the raise, saying the city manager in Lake Havasu City earns $113,000 and the city manager in Kingman makes $95,000 a year.

Walker's pay would rise to $116,352, according to Geoff Riches, human resources director.

Many county employees earn considerably less.

A salary schedule shows the lowest-paid position, apparently a library page with no previous experience, is $7.63 an hour.

County officials hope to turn over a new page by raising wages.

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Kelly McMahon, former office clerk for Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson, was in a good mood Monday morning, happy to see me or both while I showed up at the public library branch in Lake Havasu City to attend a meeting of the county supervisors.

Referring to her new job, McMahon smiled and said, "This is like dying and going to heaven."

McMahon and former co-worker Marisa Bopp filed a grievance in February with the Human Resources Department against their former boss, alleging sexual harassment.

H.R.

ruled in their favor, placed them on paid administrative leave and offered to place them in other jobs in county government,

McMahon avoided an awkward moment Monday.

Her ex-boss was out of town and attended the meeting via conference call.

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Driving back from Prescott on a recent weekend, I pulled off the back road and encountered a cemetery with an unusual, but perhaps fitting, name: Skull Valley Cemetery.