New wage increases proposed

By The Mercury

WESTMORELAND – A new wage scale being considered by the Pottawatomie County Commission would put county employee compensation more in line with area governmental entities, and replace “step” pay raises with incentive-based increases.

The commission discussed the proposal with department heads Monday and asked for their feedback before making a final decision at a future meeting.

“Just think about it,” commission chairman Pat Weixelman told department heads. When you’re discussing Obamacare over Christmas dinner, throw this out there too.”

A study conducted by The Austin Peters Group found that Pott County wages are in line with wages in counties of similar size, but about 4.4 percent below the county’s primary competitors in this marketplace –– Fort Riley, K-State and the city of Manhattan, for example.

The proposal is to bring Pott County wages up 4.4 percent over a two-year period, beginning in 2015.

“With this study we’d like to catch up a little bit with what the marketplace might be,” said Commissioner Stan Hartwich. “It’s a pretty good percentage of what it will cost the county.”

Increasing employee compensation 4.4 percent over two years (2.2 percent per year) would cost $340,000, commissioners said. That doesn’t include annual cost-of-living increases and regular pay raises.

The proposal would make Pott County more competitive with its counterparts to the west, said commissioner Gary Yenzer, who has worked for Riley County 33 years.

“Too many years, we’ve trained employees only to have them move to Riley County when something over there opens up,” Yenzer said.

The commission also wants to replace annual “step” increases on the pay scale with .5 to 1.5 percent pay raises based on annual employee evaluations done by department heads.

“With the step there’s always been a concern that it was automatic,” Hartwich said. “We’d just like to have a little more employee evaluation.”

“It’s going to put a little more burden on you folks,” Weixelman added.

Department heads expressed several concerns, particularly that the proposed increased compensation would be a trade-off for hiring new employees.

“This is one of the fastest growing counties in the state and we’ve got to keep up with that,” said appraiser Lois Schlegel. “(The growth) is affecting every office here.”

Commissioners said that wasn’t their intent, that they were aware that rapid growth increases the workload in county departments.

“At least we didn’t take this study and throw it in the trash like it has been the last four or five times,” Hartwich said. “Believe it or not, we are on your side.”

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In other business Monday, the commission authorized county administrator Robert Reece to proceed with an engineering study to determine the feasibility of repairing the deck of the Belvue Bridge with a concrete polyester overlay.

The Arizona-based Truesdell Corporation proposed the study at a cost of $44,000, but said would reduce the cost by $4,000 if the county handled traffic control.

Weixelman suggested offering to pay $39,000 for the study. At that price, Pott County’s share would be $33,604.29, with Wabaunsee County picking up the balance of $5,395.71.

The cost-share formula, according to state statute, is based on assessed valuations of the counties involved in joint projects.

If the study determines the bridge is a candidate for the polyester overlay, it would cost the counties anywhere from $1.5 million to $3 million for the repair, according to Truesdell.

The only other option is to replace the entire span at an estimated cost of $13 million.

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