County Workers Earn 90% of Peers

According to some, it has been more than ten years since members of Saline County’s two employee bargaining units met openly with County Commissioners.  Nine representatives from the “correctional officers” and classified bargaining units met with Commissioners for 45 minutes.

Spokesman Lieutenant Scott Anderson focused on the importance of retention, which he defined as “acquiring and retaining good people”.  He said staff who participate in the bargaining unit do so because they care about themselves and their families.  They work for “the public”, who Anderson identified as being “relatives and friends”.

Several representatives said staff, with less than a year’s on-the-job experience, are often asked to train and supervise even more recently hired staff.  According to Anderson, 2/3 of all County corrections staff and 2/3 of road patrol officers have less than three years’ experience in their current positions.

2016 Salary Survey

Results of a salary survey, completed by Archer Corporation earlier this year, were known to group members (but have not been made public).  While Commissioners would not disclose results, some of the bargaining unit representatives said the study recommended a $1.13 an hour across the board salary increase for staff in grades 6-18 of the County’s salary scale.  Terry Mattison said the County had offered $0.37/hour increase.  Reportedly, the survey showed Saline County workers earn 10% less than peers in other counties, “all the way through the wage scale”.

Jessica Hall, who works as a civilian at the Sheriff’s Office, supervises staff who process records.  She noticed that many workers are dedicated but frustrated; they struggle to make ends meet financially.  Greg Vidirine, who works at Road & Bridge, spoke of receiving a 20 cent an hour increases and then seeing the rising cost of family health insurance take the equivalent of 40 cents an hour.

Part of the County’s offer would require employees to complete a health and wellness assessment (possibly by computer) or face a “$30/month charge”.  Chairman Monte Shadwick said tax payers ultimately pay if an employee does not adequately tend to their health.

Shadwick encouraged the nine to feel comfortable as employees and as citizens in speaking to the Board.  Commissioner Luci Larson said she was “amazed at the hard working people”.  She said she and the other Commissioners were “approachable”.

Commissioner John Price chose to speak about the City’s 2017 Proposed Budget to give 4% cost of living and merit increases and how that might impact the City’s top wage earner.  He said he wasn’t in favor of paying approximately $12,000-14,000 for the Archer salary survey.  He said he already knows that starting pay for a correction’s office of $12.78/hour, or for a truck driver at $14.08/hour or for a registered nurse at $18.00/hour is too low.

Commissioner Jim Gile spoke of companies that asked employees to accept wage reductions in tough economic times.

Wage History

In 1996, Saline County implemented a comprehensive wage and salary program.  As detailed in the County’s 2016 Budget Overview:

  • “In 1999, wage and salary adjustments were made in order to meet the goals of maintaining internal equity and updating all positions every three years . . . to be at or near competitive wages.” A 1999 DMG Marketing Survey of positions at or below grade 21 were to be at 98% of market; positions for grade 22-31 were to be at 92% of market.  Wages were again adjusted following a 2001 survey.
  • In 2005, a wage study was approved; in 2006, a 2% general increase was approved.
  • In 2007, salary adjustments of $172,046 increase in payroll as Archer Company recommendations were implemented following additional surveys.
  • In 2010 and 2011, no (0%) increases were approved.
  • In 2012, a flat $1,000 per employee bonus was paid (at a cost of $255,000).
  • In 2013 and in 2014, a 2% general increase was approved.
  • In 2015, no (0%) increase was approved.
  • In 2016, each step on the salary schedule was increased by $1,000.

Some bargaining unit members remembered when someone had to die or retire before there was a position vacancy in Saline County.  Yet, Mattison said that in the last five years, Saline County considered 455 applicants for truck drivers and 237 applicants for corrections officers; in the last two years, there have been 244 applicants for truck drivers and 115 applicants for corrections offices.

From the start, Shadwick said the Commission would take no action from the meeting.  He and other Commissioners encouraged on-going discussions—both privately and as groups.

Sanitation Code Public Input

During the Open Forum, Commissioners sought input on possible changes to the sanitation code.  Shadwick polled Commissioners to confirm they all favor protecting the environment and following applicable State sanitation codes.  They also all favor having sanitarians inspect septic systems when homes go on the market.  Commissioner Dave Smith has voiced concerns about septic systems that are judged to be inadequate in size for the number of bedrooms in the home and the presence of a garbage disposal.  Smith has taken issue with County inspectors telling home owners that a non-leaking septic system must be replaced, based on the number of bedrooms.  For example, a couple lives in a three bedroom home and added another guest room.  The septic system performs adequately for the two individuals who live there, but a new owner may plan to have additional individuals live in the house.  Additional occupants could rapidly cause a too-small septic system to fail.

Gordon Powell, an engineer and former professor at K-State, spoke to the dynamics of septic systems.  Realtor Curt Marshall favored inspections at the time of sale; he spoke of confusion about the definition of a bedroom.  One definition is that for a room to count as a bedroom, it must have a closet.

Gile, a long-time plumber, spoke of how pumping a septic system can impact whether the system performs adequately.  Joan Ratzliff said that when homeowners learn their system has failed, they are unhappy and have difficulty seeing beyond the economic impact of addressing the issue.

Typically, 60 Saline County septic systems fail in a given year.  Most of the failing septic systems are detected as part of real-estate sales inspections, but may also be prompted by complaints from neighbors.  County Counselor Mike Montoya observed the discussion and clarified that the issue seems to involve those “2 a year” systems that are not leaking but are judged inadequate for the size of the house.  He said the homeowner or buyer can also get their own inspections.

New Fire Station for Assaria?

Last week, David Sommerfeld, Treasurer and Calvin Kelsey, Board Member with Rural Fire Department #2 presented Commissioners with plans to build an $800,000 new fire station in Assaria.  Sommerfeld and Kelsey—who are both career fire fighters in Salina–had observed and sought guidance from the architect who recently remodeled Station #1.  They asked this architect for help as RFD#2 undertook steps to build a new station in Assaria.  This week, Sommerfeld and Kelsey were able to tell Commissioners that the architect’s fee is 8% of the project.  Larson told them that other area “architects have done fire stations” and was concerned that they had not been given an opportunity to bid.

Later, Montoya advised Commissioners that in 1999, the County and rural fire departments updated by-laws that confirm that the Commission is to be involved whenever an RFD seeks to build new structures or make major purchases.  An architect provides a professional service that is to be put out to bid.

In other matters, Commissioners:

  • Approved using Riley Construction as a general contract for Road & Bridge shop improvements. Riley Construction bid on replacing “man doors”.  In order for that work to proceed in the most orderly process, Commissioners agreed that the best interest of all parties would be served if Riley Construction took on the role of general contractor.  Motion by Price, second by Gile, 5-0.
  • Approved the purchase of a tanker, to be housed at the Bavaria station of RFD #3.
  • Approved replacing gutters and fascia for RFD#5.
  • Continued discussions about speed limits and “limiting through traffic” for sections of West Water Well Road and other areas where high traffic and dust limit visibility.
  • Heard reports from Road Superintendent Darren Fishel, County Engineer Neil Cable, and Planning and Zoning Director David Neal.
  • Heard a request to purchase 28 Microsoft licenses.