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STUDY: COUNTY OFFICIALS, STAFF UNDERPAID

GOLD BEACH Elected officials, department heads, and non-union employees in Curry County are underpaid, according to a five-month salary study conducted by the Local Government Personnel Institute.

Steve Alexander, human resources consultant with the institute, presented the studys findings to the county commissioners and department heads Thursday morning.

The report split all county positions into 16 grades, with a recommended salary range for each.

Topping the list at grade 15 were the positions of human services director and county counsel.

Based on a 40-hour work week, the study recommended a salary range of $51,480 to $65,700 a year. Six salary steps were included in each range.

Human Services Director Deb Wilson is currently paid $43,488 a year, and County Council Jerry Herbage makes $58,284.

Positions listed under grade 14 include the home health/hospice director, the public health director, and the county roadmaster. The recommended salary range was $48,912 to $62,424 a year.

Currently, Home Health/ Hospice Director Lori Kent is paid $45,660, Public Health Director Barbara Floyd makes the same, and Roadmaster Dan Crumley is paid $47,952.

The commissioners wanted the study so they could work toward eliminating discrepancies between employees in positions of similar responsibility.

After hearing the results of the study, the commissioners voted to accept the range assignment descriptions and the method used in computing the salary range recommendations.

They also gave direction to Alexander to work to mesh the new salary steps in with the countys current steps.

He said that would cut down on the number of employees who would need a salary adjustment, and cut the cost of implementing the new schedule.

While the study pointed the direction to work toward, the commissioners said full implementation of the recommended salary ranges would depend on the county budget and union negotiations.

Alexander recommended the commissioners bring wages up to the new schedule when possible, and freeze the salaries of non-union employees already making more than the recommended range. He said existing salaries should not be adjusted down.

The grade numbers in the new schedule dont match the old ones. Grade four, for example, corresponds with grade six in the new schedule.

Alexander said the grades could be renumbered. He said it is the ranges that are important.

In conducting the survey, Alexander first met with employees and their supervisors to discuss the scope and purpose of the project.

Employees then completed a job analysis questionnaire, and supervisors reviewed the information to make sure it was accurate and complete.

The institute then used the information to conduct an internal equity evaluation. Alexander facilitated the evaluation, which was done by a job evaluation committee made up of 10 county employees and union representatives.

The committee looked at knowledge, experience, complexity of duties, supervision received, effect of probable errors, contacts with others, confidential data, manual dexterity requirements, and working conditions for office, technical, professional and supervisory positions.

It also looked at character and scope of supervision for positions with supervisory responsibilities.

For maintenance, service and trade positions, the committee looked at knowledge, experience, initiative, physical, mental or visual demands, equipment or materials responsibility, safety of others, responsibility for work of others, working conditions and hazards.

Alexander said each position was analyzed by itself against those factors, not by who was in each position.

He said he knew what group the position would go into, but the committee did not.

Committee members also went back and reviewed the first positions theyd worked on to incorporate what theyd learned while working on the others.

The groupings were reviewed to make sure they were not out of whack, and evaluations were reviewed to make sure they were done correctly.

Meetings were held with department heads and employees to give them a chance to raise questions or appeal the groupings. Alexander said some grades were changed after the appeals.

Having established the internal equity relationship of county positions, Alexander went to other counties to find out what best represented the labor market for Curry County.

He looked at salaries for equivalent positions in Southern Oregon counties like Klamath, Josephine, Jackson and Douglas, and at coastal counties like Coos and Lincoln.

Alexander also looked at counties with populations about the same size as Curry, including Crook, Hood River, Jefferson, Tillamook, Union, and Wasco counties.

He thought that to be most representative of what Curry would have to pay for equivalent positions, if Coos County was also included.

Though Coos has a much higher population, he said, at 59,500, it shares a common labor market with Curry County.

Alexander then came up with a salary schedule to reflect the true labor marketplace, including new ranges and steps.

Curry County Budget Committee member Linda Brown asked if Alexander had compared Curry with other counties that have similar budgets.

He did not. He said comparing counties on the basis of geography or population is a more typical approach in a salary study.

Commissioner Marlyn Schafer said the market analysis shows Curry County is not underpaying its employees, at least, not the union ones.

She said the most disparity was in salaries for non-represented employees and department heads. Alexander said that is also true for elected officials.

He said most salary ranges were based on comparisons with counties of similar population size, plus Coos County.

The exception was for technical computer positions. Alexander said those had to be taken out of the group they would have been placed in.

They were bumped up a few notches due to supply and demand, and the high-wage marketplace for people with those skills.

Brown asked if the recession had softened the high demand and tight marketplace for computer technicians.

Alexander said the market for computer technicians was expected to soften after the Y2K frenzy, but it hadnt, especially in rural areas.

Commissioner Rachelle Schaaf said the county has only three computer technicians.

Alexander said the commissioners couldnt arbitrarily change even one union employees salary until they renegotiate the contract.

Schafer said most of the current salaries paid to union employees meet or exceed the new salary ranges. Alexander said some were close, and others were way off.

Some exceed it by far, said Schafer. She said those salaries may have to be renegotiated with the union when new employees come into those positions.

Floyd asked if Alexander had looked at what nurses are paid in the private sector. He said he had used only the public sector marketplace in his comparison.

There is a huge shortage of nurses, said Floyd. We want to keep salaries at the local private level. Lori (Kent) and I are unable to keep the wages of our nurses in line.

Alexander said nurses might be another example, like computer technicians, of positions that need to be moved out of their normal grades.

Kent said the Public Services Department also had trouble finding a building inspector until it raised the offered salary. She asked how those positions might be identified in other areas.

If exceptions become a problem, Alexander recommended doing another study of the marketplace, rather than individually raising too many positions out of their assigned grades.

Schafer said the salaries of some positions could not be directly compared with their private counterparts because the county provides much better benefits. She advised employees to consider those benefits when thinking about their futures.

Sheriff Kent Owens thanked the commissioners for their efforts.

The commissioners are taking steps to treat unrepresented people fairly, and some have not been treated fairly for a long time, he said.

Alexander suggested the committee continue to exist, rotating members from time to time.

He said it would give employees the sense that their salaries are not based on whims and fancies.

He also said he had enjoyed working with the committees fair and knowledgeable members.

Commissioner Lucie La Bont said, The committee would be important for future commissioners to have.

It would be an invaluable tool for the county, said Schafer.

Schaaf recommended the commissioners make an official commitment to the committee, and to salary parity.

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