County planning to give 2% bonuses to all employees

Posted 6/30/20

Park County commissioners plan to give county employees a roughly 2% bump in pay.

However, commissioners are offering the …

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County planning to give 2% bonuses to all employees


Park County commissioners plan to give county employees a roughly 2% bump in pay.

However, commissioners are offering the boost in the form of one-time bonuses rather than permanent raises, as they remain wary of how the economy and the oil and gas industry will rebound from the recent COVID-19-induced downturn.

“It’s a nice, fluffy thing to throw out for employees and say, ‘Hey, we appreciate you,’” Commission Chairman Joe Tilden said of the one-time payments, summarizing the board’s position as, “We don’t know what’s ahead going down into the future and we’re scared of not being able to sustain this.”

According to the Park County Clerk’s Office, the bonuses will cost the county $176,683 in the coming fiscal year, which begins Wednesday (July 1) and runs through June 30, 2021. It will be up to each county department head or elected official to decide how to divvy up the funds; they can give each of their employees a 2% bonus or, theoretically, choose to give bigger payments to their top-performing employees.

Commissioners also agreed to raise the pay for eight individual employees who were singled out by their supervisors for strong work; those raises will cost the county $34,570.

Meanwhile, under a decision that was finalized two years ago, the county assessor, clerk, treasurer, clerk of district court, sheriff, coroner and county attorney — and their top deputies — will receive raises generally averaging a little over 1%.

The subject of county-wide raises was debated for roughly an hour at last week’s commission meeting. For most of the discussion, it appeared that Tilden was the only one of the five board members who would support increasing pay.

Under the draft budget considered last week, commissioners were told that they had enough money to cover 2% raises for all employees and, depending on some other decisions, might even have some money left over to put in reserves.

However, the only reason the county came out ahead was by trimming department budgets and relying on money left over from the current year’s budget. Commissioner Dossie Overfield noted that revenues might be worse next year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with likely lower sales tax collections and fewer dollars from the state government. Depending on how things go, “it could get not pretty,” Overfield said.

She was not alone in feeling uneasy about the 2021-22 fiscal year, with several commissioners saying they fear that — unless voters approve a 1% sales and use tax in November — there could be layoffs coming a year from now.

“Until the COVID hit and everything went to hell in a handbasket, I would have been fine with it,” Commissioner Lee Livingston said of raising county workers’ pay.

“But we have folks in the private sector that are not working” and others, including at Cody Regional Health, have had their pay cut, he noted.

While Tilden argued that 3% raises would be better, other commissioners indicated that they preferred to wait and revisit the subject in January.

Commissioner Lloyd Thiel said Tilden’s proposal made sense — except for the fact that the county and cities are asking voters to approve a new 1% sales tax this fall.

“I think if we do what you’re saying, you’re gonna kill it,” Thiel said of the so-called “fifth penny,” adding, “The voters are going to look at it, ‘You’re giving raises in such a problem right now?’”

Tilden countered that raises were the right thing to do. The COVID-19 pandemic has been an example of employees stepping up to the plate, he said, adding that in the future, “We’re going to be asking our employees to do more with less.”

Treasurer Barb Poley also submitted that the cash left over from this year’s budget was a direct result of county employees managing taxpayer money wisely and saving when they can.

“It’s really hard for you guys to tell us every single year, we gotta cut, we gotta cut … but now we’re not going to get the 2% COLA [Cost of Living Adjustment] for our staff,” she said, noting that the COLA had been built into the draft budget.

Poley said some of her staff are at the bottom of the pay scale, making $13 an hour.

“I’ve got a single mom who’s making the same amount of money for three years now,” she said.

Clerk Colleen Renner added that, “it’s not like we’re asking for a lot.”

She contrasted the job of commissioners — who make $36,175 plus benefits and are “required to come three days a month,” she said — with workers in the clerk’s office who make roughly $32,000 a year with the same benefits and “are expected to come 8 to 5, Monday through Friday,” she said.

“They deserve a 2%,” Renner said of county employees.

While sympathetic, it took Tilden’s suggestion of a one-time bonus rather than a permanent raise to win the rest of the commission over.

“I don’t think that’s the way to go, but I want to make damn sure they get something,” Tilden said of his compromise.

Beyond cutting budgets, commissioners have also implemented a hiring freeze, generally requiring departments to wait at least 90 days before filling vacant positions.

There are currently 181 employees on the county payroll, down from 187 a year ago, according to the clerk’s office.

During the debate, Tilden said raising the base pay is key to attracting the best people — and that county workers’ salaries have been falling behind their counterparts in the private sector.

All employees received 5% raises in 2018-19, which was the first raise since fiscal year 2014-15, when the workers got a 2% bump. Park County does offer a comparatively generous benefits package, covering all the premiums for employees’ health insurance — including for families — and paying both the employer’s and employee’s share of state retirement contributions. Still, “what I’m finding talking to some of the employees is, they love the benefits and they’re great, but it doesn’t put food on the table because their paychecks haven’t increased at all,” Overfield said.

Commissioners indicated that they would like to explore ways that they might have at least new employees begin contributing toward their health insurance and/or retirement.

The commission will hold a public hearing on its draft budget at 6 p.m. on Monday, July 6, before making any last-minute changes and finalizing the document on Tuesday, July 7.