GILLETTE, Wyo. – County employees could receive up to a 5% raise this year with the Campbell County Commissioners approving a cost of living adjustment during their Tuesday morning meeting.
The adjustment, comprised of a 2% cost of living increase for all county employees coupled with a potential merit-based raise between 1-3% for top performers, was approved by the commission on Feb. 21.
According to County Human Resources Executive Director Brandy Elder, who addressed the commissioners on behalf of the Campbell County Compensation Committee, the 2% pay increase could take effect by mid-year with the merit-based raises going out possibly by fall depending on how long it takes to organize a merit-based system.
A subcommittee will be working to revise the county’s employee evaluation process to develop a new tool that can be used to justify the merit-based raises, according to a Feb. 21 memorandum sent to the commission by the committee.
During the meeting, Elder spitballed an idea that the merit-based raises could also go before the commissioners for final approval if they so wish.
All told, the budget for the raises is capped at an estimated $1.58 million, an amount based on a scenario that all county employees would be deemed top performers and receive the full 5% raise, Elder said, though it is unlikely that would actually happen.
Elder said the cost of living adjustment is necessary and justifiable based on the inflation rate for northeastern Wyoming. As of the latest figures available, the local inflation rate is a tenth of a percent higher than the statewide inflation rate for the entire state of 10.1%
Then, there’s also the number of county employment openings, currently at 29 plus six that won’t be filled, and a low number of qualified applicants applying to fill those openings to consider, according to Elder.
The reduction in the availability of qualified labor coupled with inflation has placed upward pressure on wages in the region, resulting in the county becoming uncompetitive in the local labor market and losing employees as a result, the memorandum said.
While last year’s turnover rate was a decrease from the year prior, which Elder attributed to the county approving a 7% cost of living adjustment for the first time in years, the county is still losing employees to other employers.
Last year, the county turnover rate was 13.8% with the number one reason conveyed by departing employees being “other employment” followed closely by “retirement,” according to the memorandum.
Commissioner Del Shelstad said that he hoped the pay adjustments would serve to make the county a more competitive employer and would bring some “sanity” to what the county is doing as far as compensation.
“It’s really important I think that we give our directors a tool to reward their top performers in their department,” Shelstad said. “I think that’s something that we’ve been missing and I’m happy to get this done.”
Shelstad also referenced the county losing jobs to other entities, like the City of Gillette, which boasts a better compensation package than the county.
“It seems we’ve had a habit the last three years the City of Gillette comes in and snatches people away from us because our compensation package isn’t quite as good,” Shelstad said. “I think we’re there. I think with this, we will be.”
The adjustment approved by the commissioners had another effect as well: eliminating the county’s long-standing practice of allowing employees to donate unused sick leave to other employees and replacing it with a short-term disability option.
Under the old policy, Elder said, county employees who experienced an emergency, accident, or illness were left with no option but to ask other employees to donate unused sick leave if they didn’t have enough accrued to get them to the point of their long-term disability benefits kicking, which occurs around six months from the date of the incident.
The new option gives those employees the option of paying a monthly fee and enrolling in short-term disability benefits through Aflac, which would fill that six-month gap without them going through the uncomfortable and awkward process of begging time off of their coworkers.
This option would still require employees to use their accrued sick leave with there being an estimated two-week waiting period before short-term disability kicks in, Elder said, unless the employee was in an accident then it would kick in immediately.