by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
After 10 years of pay freezes, layoffs and furlough days, the employees of Shiawassee County have had their prayers answered by the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners, which voted unanimously on Thursday, Feb. 8 to implement a nine-step wage scale for all county employees. The pay raises are the product of a wage study completed in January by Municipal Public Services of Brighton, which recommended wage increases for most county employees and elected officials. The commissioners have long sought to remedy the county government’s below-average employee compensation figures, which have made retaining employees a challenge.
The commissioners plan to implement the nine-step wage increase system on March 17 for county employees, and since the commissioners cannot legally vote to increase their own salaries, the raises for elected officials will take effect on Jan. 1, 2019, after a new Board of Commissioners is elected in November of 2018.
The annual salary for Board of Commissioners members will increase by approximately 65 percent, from $6,065 to $10,000, although the board’s vice chairman will earn $10,500 and the chairman $11,000. While some feel the commissioners should not be given raises, commissioner Jeremy Root pointed out that the average commissioner preps, travels to and attends 15 to 20 meetings every month across Shiawassee, Lapeer and Genesee counties. He also noted that the salaries for commissioners and elected officials have been frozen for much longer than those of the county’s employees, which is one reason why elected officials have won uncontested elections several times over the years.
Also of note, the sheriff’s salary will be increased by five percent; the prosecuting attorney will see a 22 percent raise; and the clerk, treasurer, register of deeds and drain commissioner will all receive salary increases of 21 percent.
Shiawassee County Health Director Larry Johnson, whose office contributed to funding the wage study, and whose office has not seen pay increases since 2006, spoke about how the wage increases will benefit the county. “Retention has been a problem for this department and throughout county government,” Johnson shared. “I have lost seven nurses in three years and two of our four sanitarians. It has been very hard to deal with hiring and training employees only to see them leave for better-paying positions in neighboring counties, or even to private companies within the county. Shiawassee County government employees are never going to make as much as those in more heavily populated counties, but this makes us competitive, and our employees deserve to be rewarded for their loyalty.”
Root noted that the commissioners set aside money more than a year ago in anticipation of these raises, which will cost the county a little more than $200,000 per year to incorporate into the budget. “Years of conservative budgeting has put the county in a position where we can afford to give cost-of-living increases, which were long overdue,” said Root. “A lot of people lost over the past 10 years of wage freezes, so it is nice to be able to give a little incentive to our dedicated employees who have stayed or were maybe thinking about leaving.”