How ad hoc pay committee arrived at its $908 raise recommendationPublished 11:46am Monday, December 7, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
CASSOPOLIS – An ad hoc committee agreed Thursday night to recommend $908 raises for non-union employees in 2010 to the Cass County Board of Commissioners at its last 2009 meeting Dec. 17.
Three employee units remain unsettled for 2010.
CCIEA General is 17 employees who work in six different offices.
Animal Control (ACOAM) is three of 42 non-union employees.
“One is leaving, so I did not include her salary in this total,” County Administrator Terrey Proctor stated. “The total is $1.8 million. Two percent of that is $37,236. If you divide that by 41, it’s $908 each.”
Five elected officials received $1,238 increases. “There are no perfect solutions here where there aren’t down sides,” he said.
Proctor reviewed six wage/salary options with commissioners: a salary freeze; matching elected officials; matching pay adjustments in three non-union agencies – the Medical Care Facility, Council on Aging and Woodlands; matching the unions in each office; implementing the classification and compensation study recently completed; or “something else.”
Referring to the MCF, COA and Woodlands, the community mental health agency, Proctor said, “All three have financial challenges this year than are greater than the County of Cass. The Medical Care Facility, which lost money and lost money the year before – they’re going through huge management changes – did vote to give its employees 2 percent across the board. Council on Aging gave everybody 1 percent in a lump sum. They didn’t increase base pay. They also told their employees they would reopen it in six months when they can see how their finances are. Woodlands, even though it is getting less money this year – they retired four people and are leaving three positions vacant – gave 1 percent across the board, and their employees get a step if they’re eligible.”
Another option was matching unions in each office. The Sheriff’s Office won 2.5 percent and step increases for deputies and command officers.
“Why is that relevant?” posed Proctor. “You’ve got two non-union employees, Donna Dominiak, the administrative assistant, and the undersheriff (Rick Behnke). You’ve already given the sheriff $1,238, which is less than 2.5 percent. If you give $908 to the other two, they’ll both be less than 2.5 percent. That’s a down side, where you’re giving your non-union and top management people in the Sheriff’s Office less than their employees. Even at $1,238, that’s less than 2 percent for the sheriff. His command officers, captains and lieutenants, are getting closer to him. The undersheriff is only a very small amount below the sheriff.”
Court unions received 2 percent plus step increases, if eligible.
Turning to the classification and compensation study, which updates job descriptions, Proctor said, “A couple of different parts which I think are important and worthy of discussion. Within the salary scale we had ranges, with five steps within that. No step increases in 2010. In future years, step increases based on work effort, the earliest that might be looked at is July 1, 2011, provided the employer approves. That way, you get your class/comp study implemented. I’ve been wrestling with this for weeks. How do we take people from their grade and step now and put them on a new grade without bankrupting the county in this economy, where we’re trying to stay within this 2-percent framework? You do that by putting them in the pay plan in the range, not on a step. Steps come later. There’s no perfect here. You take the person’s 2009 pay and add $908 to it for 2010. You’re going to get some pushback and disagreement no matter which way you go.”
For example, two law clerks would get the same $908 as three assistant prosecutors who have more responsibility and longer hours.
“The bright side is they’re getting something,” said Commissioner Debbie Johnson, D-Niles. “We started out not wanting to give raises, period. We’re trying be fair without breaking the bank. It doesn’t matter what we do, we’re not going to make everybody happy.”
The six committee members – Johnson, Chair Minnie Warren, D-Pokagon Township; Cathy Goodenough, R-Marcellus; Gordon Bickel Sr., R-Constantine; Carl Higley Sr., R-Edwardsburg; Dixie Ann File, R-Cassopolis – agreed to the $908 recommendation to the full board.
Proctor said non-union employees currently navigate a 13-step salary table. “It takes them six and a half years to get from the bottom to the top,” he said. “We haven’t had a lot of turnover the last three years. Most people are at the top step.”
Members of the committee also agreed to recommend to the full board closing health plans A, B, C and D to non-union employees, requiring non-union employees on Plan E (Community Blue PPO 4) to pay 11 percent of the premium effective Sept. 1, 2010.
“If you do all this preventive stuff covered at 100 percent, you’re going to stay healthy,” commented Johnson. “Office visits are going to go up $10 to $20, but still, a $30 co-pay for an office visit is not bad.”
Currently, the drug co-pay under Plan D, is $15 for generic drugs and $30 for a branded drug.
The maximum co-pay out of pocket for the year under Plan E is $3,000 for a family, $1,500 for single coverage.
“We’ve been moving everybody to D and E,” Proctor said, “eventually closing down A, B and C, and eventually closing down D. The question becomes which employees go first? Union? Non-union? Sheriff’s Office? Other offices? It’s never the same twice. In the most recent agreements the board approved with the court unionized people, you gave them 2 percent pay increases, but you required all of them to go to either Plan D or Plan E. That’s in the new court contracts. If they go to Plan E this year, they pay 10-percent of the premium. Then, next Sept. 1, they go to 11 percent of the premium. Plan D, they pay more than that. By going to the higher deductibles and higher co-pays, the county cost of the plan is controlled and the employee’ contribution is controlled. Everybody is moving in this direction. Compared to the marketplace, a contribution of 11 percent of premium is still low outside of government. This was not accomplished with the court unions with no pay increase. Court contracts called for a 2-percent pay increase and they moved to Plan D and E on the health insurance. There are only a few people in B and it’s an administrative nightmare trying to keep five plans open when you really don’t need five plans. We originally had one plan and employees, through bargaining, would not go to the high-deductible plan, so we ended up with an A Plan, a B Plan and a C Plan, and they could choose. That works really well for those employees who are willing to look at their medical expenses for the last year and estimate what they will be for the coming year. It works awful for the employees that is not their cup of tea. They sign up for the most expensive plan, which costs the county the most. It’s sad to see people overpaying for health insurance and the county overpaying when it shouldn’t be that way,” Proctor said.
“The closer we get down to one plan,” he added, “the better off we’re going to be.”
One other “amazing” factor, Proctor said, is that the county buys Blue Cross Blue Shield with the Medical Care Facility, Woodlands and Council on Aging. “By getting together, we cover 351 lives. A study has recently come out that if you reduce your generic drug co-pay from $15 to zero dollars, the plan and employees actually save money. Our buying group is evaluating that. If they think that’s the best way to go, they’ll recommend that to the board,” Proctor said
Amending disability insurance policy
The ad hoc committee reviewed proposed changes to the disability insurance portion of the Personnel Handbook of County of Cass that would revise section 4.5 of March 20, 2003.
Fulltime employees are provided short-term disability insurance upon completion of probation.
The amount of insurance is based on the employee’s salary.
If an employee is ill for – seven days would be modified to 14 – consecutive calendar days and qualifies for and receives short-term disability benefits, instead of the county paying base wages lost retroactively during the period to reimbursing the employee for all ETO (earned time off) hours used by the employee during the waiting period. Any compensatory time, vacation time or other paid time used during the waiting period will not be reimbursable, if the full Board of Commissioners accepts the recommendation Dec. 17.
“This has been a county proposal in collective bargaining,” Proctor said. “This is one we’ve gotten into the contracts in the Sheriff’s Office – the Command Officers and the Teamsters – and, I believe, the three court units. Now, if we’re going to be consistent, we need to get it to the non-union personnel. What it does, if you buy a policy that takes care of the disability 30 days after it occurs, you’ll get a cheaper premium than if you have one with a seven-day waiting period. Getting it from seven to 14 will control the cost of the policy. Most employees have some ETO and they have some vacation, so they still are going to get a full paycheck during the waiting period. It’s viewed as a giveback, but it’s not as painful as some other things. There’s definitely a safety net. Where there’s not a safety net is the short-term disability policy the county provides is only good for six months. The county does not provide long-term disability. The county does offer a payroll-deduction plan with the same insurance company, but the employee has to pay 100-percent of the cost. Because it’s a group LTD, it’s a good buy for employees, and most of them sign up for it. Some counties provide the LTD, but Cass County does not.”