Keep things fair

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Cherokee County Board of Supervisors appears determined to be frugal in giving raises to elected county officials and to employees without union representation.

Although the county is in better financial condition than it was a year ago, the financial situation is still no better than OK.

There has been no binding commitment by the supervisors in granting raises to non-union employees, but the supervisors have signaled their intentions by having department heads figure a raise of 40 cents for hourly employees who don't have union representation and raises of half that recommended by the Cherokee County Compensation Board for elected officials.

The supervisors cannot alter the raises recommended by the compensation board except by reducing the recommended raises by a percentage that is consistent for all elected county officials -- supervisors, sheriff, auditor, treasurer, recorder and county attorney.

The supervisors cannot cut the raises recommended by the compensation board in half for one office without cutting the raises in half for all offices of elected officials.

The raises recommended by the compensation board for the sheriff, auditor, treasurer and recorder were slightly over 4 percent. Cutting them in half makes the raise slightly over 2 percent. This also affects the salaries of deputy auditor, deputy treasurer, deputy recorder and all the sheriff department deputies since those wages are set at a percentage of the department head's salary.

The supervisors, who did not request any raise from the compensation board, received a raise recommendation of slightly less than 3 percent. Half of that would be slightly less than 1.5 percent.

The raise recommended for the county attorney is a more complicated matter. The amount of salary to which the county attorney is entitled has been in dispute. The supervisors maintain that the salary being paid, $70,000 per year, is the rightful salary. The county attorney maintains that the salary should be $90,000, the amount that was received by the county attorney who worked for a few months at the start of 2007.

The compensation board recommendation of an $80,000 salary was possibly an attempt at a compromise to avoid threatened litigation. The supervisors' apparent intent of cutting increases in half would mean a salary of $75,000 for the county attorney.

We don't question the supervisors' judgment in trying to show restraint in granting salary increases; even holding salary increases to less than the rate of inflation for some offices. Supervisors are responsible for providing the best level of service for the taxpayers' money.

However, holding the line should be done on a consistent basis, including when negotiating with employee unions representing county road workers and county law enforcement center employees other than the sheriff and deputies.

The union represented county employees will all receive raises over 4 percent, all greater than 50 cents an hour.

Public employees do not have the right to strike but they do have the right to an arbitration process when an agreement cannot be reached. In general, arbitration should be avoided but when arbitration is never required, as seems to be the case in Cherokee County, it is possible that one side or the other has a habit of caving in too easily to the other side's demands.

The county must try to treat all of its employees equitably.