Council OK’s Pay Raises

Ordinance: Raise Must Include Countywide Officials

WINNSBORO – A 2 percent cost of living increase for County employees that excluded countywide elected officials in the second reading of the 2015-2016 budget was revised by Council during a May 26 work session after administration uncovered a five-year-old ordinance that tied Council’s hands.

Interim County Administrator Milton Pope recommended the pay raise during a May 7 work session, but Councilman Billy Smith (District 7) balked at including the elected offices of Probate Judge, Tax Auditor, Treasurer, Clerk to Court, Coroner and Sheriff.

“For the elected officials,” Smith said, “they knew what the salary was when they ran and they don’t have to run again.”

Four of the seven Council members, including Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6), agreed. However, during a continuation of those discussions on May 11, Kinley asked Council to hold off on a final decision until the administration could present a comparison with other counties.

“We need to keep a good relationship with our elected officials,” Kinley said. “I’d like to see what other counties, neighboring counties and counties our size, do first.”

The elected officials were excluded from the pay increase in the version of the budget that passed second reading on May 11. During the May 26 work session, however, Deputy Administrator Davis Anderson produced a 2010 ordinance that requires Council to include those offices in any cost of living increases granted to County employees. Anderson also told Council that, according to his conversations with the S.C. Association of Counties, no other counties excluded elected offices from cost of living increases.

“Unfortunately, with that ordinance out there, if we’re going to give anybody that 2 percent cost of living, then the elected officials have to get it, in my mind,” Smith said.

Pope said the County was preparing to embark upon a compensation study, which he said would reveal a large portion of County employees earning salaries below market value. A small 2 percent increase now, he said, would help move those salaries in the right direction and do so incrementally, avoiding a huge jolt to the payroll all at one time in the near future.

Pope also said the County was planning to move toward a performance-based system for pay increases in the future, once the compensation study had been completed. Councilman Walter Larry Stewart (District 3), however, suggested any pay increase could wait on the study to be completed.

“The more you talk, the more uncomfortable I become with this 2 percent and your study and all those things that are going on,” Stewart said. “I think we’ve gotten a little ahead of ourselves. If we are going to implement a performance-based salary system where the raises come through that, then maybe that’s what we need to do.

“But then the other point becomes,” Stewart continued, “why go throw a 2 percent out there and go back and do a performance based system after? We’ve got to get some things lined up first before we go throwing money out there.”

The issue on the table, Pope said, was the 2 percent cost of living increase he had recommended in the 2015-2016 budget. A performance-based system, he said, would have to come before Council as a separate item that Council would then have to fund.

“This is not, in my opinion, in any way putting the cart before the horse,” Pope said. “We are doing something at a minimum now, just to address that the county hasn’t had any type of (cost of living increase) for the past five to six years.”

“You’re talking about giving a 2 percent increase right now,” Stewart said. “Then you’re talking about looking at the performance based … then if we implement that, then we’re talking about another raise.”

“That’s prospective,” Pope replied.

“You just sat there and said we are way behind on this,” Stewart countered. “It’s a little bit puzzling to me about what we’re trying to do.”

“If we do the 2 percent (cost of living increase) for everybody now,” Chairwoman Carolyn Robinson (District 2) broke in, “and then what we’re talking about down the road is this study and a performance-based system, that’s called long range. It’s not going to be hammered out overnight. That’s something we put on our check-off list to start working toward for another year.”

Anderson told Council that administration would be meeting with the County’s department heads next month to begin putting an evaluation system back in place, one that would evaluate employees over the fiscal year to coincide with the budget.

“We’ll wait on our compensation study, and next budget come back to you with a full-fledged plan on how we’re going to roll this out,” Anderson said.

“If you don’t get the compensation study done, you really cannot have a plan,” Councilman Marion Robinson (District 5) agreed. “You’ve got to know where you stand.”

As Council considered the 2 percent increase for the elected offices, Councilman Dan Ruff (District 1) questioned the $60,000 salary of the County Coroner.

“That one really sticks out,” Ruff said. “We’re more than double most other like-sized (counties), and not too far from Richland County.”

Chairwoman Robinson said Council last year elected to bring the Coroner’s Office in line with the other countywide elected offices.

“Well, we’re not in line with other counties,” Ruff said. “None of that makes sense to me.”

Smith, while he said he did not necessarily disagree with Ruff, said the Coroner’s salary itself was a separate matter and urged Council to focus on the 2 percent at hand and the implementation of that increase across the board, elected officials included.

“I do believe our employees are deserving of the 2 percent,” Pope said. “And we’re doing this within a no tax increase budget. Hopefully that’s not being lost.”

The question, then, boiled down to raising everyone’s salary or raising no one’s salary.

“We need to do what the ordinance says,” Smith said. “We hold people accountable based off our ordinances, we ought to be held accountable based off of them also. Whether I agree with the end result or not is another topic for another day.”

Council agreed to include the pay raises in the June 8 third reading of the budget.