Board Cautioned about increasing Out-of-Class Wages Paid

By John Holler Correspondent

At the beginning of this decade, the Wright County Board of Commissioners conducted a compensation/classification study to determine the role of specific jobs in the county and the pay scale range each of those jobs entails.

Recently at the March 20 meeting of the Wright County Board, concern was expressed over an inordinate number of new hires that are ignoring those parameters.

Commissioner Darek Vetsch pointed out that this is nothing new. It is becoming the norm, rather than the exception, to have job openings discussed at the personnel committee with requests to approve a new hire at a figure above the set starting position wage.

What concerned Vetsch the most was that not only were the requests becoming more prevalent, but the percentage above the minimum has increased sharply. Last year, it was common to see a request for hiring an individual at 5 percent above the entry level minimum. In recent months, 12 percent has become all too common. At the March 20 meeting, a hire was approved at 29 percent above the minimum, which had Vetsch questioning the county’s practice.

“I get that we have a lot of positions that we can’t fill, but I think we’re setting a precedent that we’re going to see this percentage of people asking for more and more and more,” Vetsch said. “This is out there. I started out that we were going 4 [percent above minimum pay scale]. Then we’re going 8. Then we’re going 12. Now we’re going into the 20-30 percent. As an employer we can’t verify what they were making before. They can just throw a number out there and we’re chasing the wind.”

Vetsch pointed out that employees from the private sector can claim how much they were paid and the county has no way of verifying it, which has led to the increase in requests to ignore the salary range standards.

“I just don’t want to have a bad precedent set before we have the comp/classification study done,” Vetsch said. “We can’t keep this mentality going of just trying to meet what anybody asks; otherwise people are going to ask for the moon.”

Commissioner Mike Potter said the numerous requests to hiring outside the standard pay scale is troubling, but the county has had a difficult time competing with the private sector to hire and retain employees. Often times, they get their training with the county and then move on to greener pastures with private companies that have a higher pay scale.

Potter pointed out that the last time a comp/classification study was performed, the country was at the height of the economic recession that began in earnest in 2008. He said that now that the economy has showed significant recovery, the data compiled in the ongoing comp/classification study will reflect that and come more in line with the realistic wages being paid inside and outside of government.

“The last time we did the classification study, it was done during the recession period so you really didn’t have good metrics to work on,” Potter said. “At that point and time everybody was scrambling for a seat. We didn’t (project) the market with it, which I think is a key component of this. Now we’re to a point that we’re not in a recession per se. This is just a byproduct of the timing of the last classification study. If they had done it before the recession started, we might have gotten better numbers.”

The board said it will continue to evaluate the requests to hire employees at a percentage above minimum on a case-bycase basis with the hope that when the current comp/classification study is completed, it will bring an end to these types of requests.

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