Sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing.
When the Ward County Board of Commissioners adopted a new salary structure in May, it was guaranteed that every county employee would receive at least a 1.5 percent raise.
Once the numbers started to flesh out, however, some problems began to surface.
The personnel committee of the county commission, which includes commissioners Jack Nybakken and Carroll Erickson, met Thursday to address some of those concerns.
Several county department heads as well as some other employees were in attendance to voice their displeasure over perceived inequities in the new salary plan.
Those concerns voiced to the personnel committee centered around two issues longevity of service and performance.
Some situations have arisen wherein employees in supervisory positions are due to make less money than some of the employees they supervise. Public Sector Personnel Consultants, a Tucson, Ariz., company, was hired by the county in 2008 to do a comprehensive study of all county positions, with a goal of setting a structure of classification that all departments would fit into, and then determining what the prevailing market salary is for those positions in comparable areas in the state.
Once accepted by the board, the decision was made to set the midpoint of the salary scale in proportion to that market rate at 100 percent. Therefore, a person with several years experience in their position would make the same rate as a comparable worker for another employer.
Once the structure was implemented, however, problems began to arise. When the adjustment in salary was made, some people who had recently assumed supervisory positions came qualified for lower pay rates within their determined classification. Meanwhile, people in pay grades below theirs who had more years of experience in their current positions would assume a higher level within their own scale. At times, the lower scale's high points are exceeding the higher scale's low points.
Some also contended that an employee who has worked for the county for many years, but was promoted only recently, would not receive credit for their full years of service when their salaries were adjusted.
After more than an hour of discussion Thursday, a call was placed to Weatherly in Tucson in an attempt to obtain answers to some of the questions.
"The goal that we designed is that everybody is within 15 or 20 percent of the market rate," Weatherly said. "That's certainly not to take away from someone who's been in their position 12, 15, 18 years."
Weatherly said that at some point, it has to be realized that some people's salaries have exceeded market rate and others have fallen significantly below.
"If the goal is to get everybody near or at market at eight, nine or 10 years, I think the initial plan has accomplished that," he said.
As far as losing credit for years served when being promoted, Weatherly said that in most cases, a person is compensated for their promotion at that time. Therefore, when that salary is moved to the new pay plan, they will already be at the level they were promoted to.
Situations resulting in subordinates' pay exceeding superiors' need a civil service-type oversight to make sure all positions are treated properly.
"Those would be the instances you start looking at on paper," Weatherly said. "We need to make sure those individuals are earning at least 5 percent higher than any of their subordinates.
"I think that's the appropriate thing to do. Whether you can get there right away or not is up to you."
He did however agree that people who made lateral moves within the same department should be given credit for their full years of service at that level.
Compounding the problem is that budget time is rapidly approaching, so county auditor Devra Smestad will soon need budget numbers including salaries for their departments from the various county department heads.
In an attempt to come to a resolution, Weatherly agreed that other methods of factoring longevity were possible when making that initial adjustment. He agreed to research some of the questionable cases further before making another recommendation.
Smestad told the committee that she and county personnel director Colleen Houmann would research other scenarios and report back to the committee.