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Monday, April 21, 2014

County council debates raises, medical contributions for staff

The Elkhart County Council will vote on employee raises in October as part of the 2014 budget.

Posted on Sepa. 22, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

GOSHEN — Elkhart County government employees may still get a raise and a higher contribution to their health savings accounts in 2014, but for some, it might not be as much as they were expecting.

The Elkhart County Council debated this week on how much of a pay increase to give full-time workers next year and came to a consensus that employees would be eligible for a raise of up to 3 percent, allowing department heads to grant the raises based on performance. The council had originally considered giving a 3 percent raise to all employees.

The county council also discussed this week whether to double the county’s annual contribution to employee medical accounts from $750 to $1,500. While some county council members, including president John Letherman, supported the increase, others did not. The council compromised and will consider a $1,125 contribution in 2014.

“I think for low-paid people this is a big deal,” Letherman said.

Given the economic climate, county councilman Darryl Riegsecker said he does not support both the proposed raises and the county’s increased contribution to employee health savings plans.

“I know the economy has picked up some, but I don’t think it’s picked up quite enough that we can explain that we’re doing both at this time,” he said. “I’m OK with the raise, but I’m not sure that I’m OK with the raise plus the $750. It’s a little harder to explain.”

County councilman Tom Stump agreed.

“I think if you would want to give some of that additional $750 to the savings account, I wouldn’t object to that as much as I would to giving it all at one time,” he said.

County auditor Pauline Graff said pay raises and larger contributions to medical accounts are important to staff. She said some county employees have been drawn away to neighboring jurisdictions and the private sector because of higher wages and better benefits.

“When things pick up and jobs start opening up again, how do we retain employees without giving them something to stay here for,” Graff asked. “That has been a major problem with the county because all of the clerical workers here are lucky to start out at $10, $11 an hour. That’s not a lot of money because a lot of them are working 36 hours a week, and then when it opens up out there, they all start leaving and then you have no amount of knowledge left in your office to run it.”

Stump said that while he does not want to see employees laid off, attrition could help.

“I would say the way to handle that is to reduce your employees and then give the ones that are really good, the remaining employees, give them the money,” he said. “Give them the raise.”

But, Graff said, many departments are already stretched so thin that they cannot reduce staff and give more work to the employees who are still around. The workload has not slowed down with the economy, she said.

The county council will vote in October whether to give employees raises and how much to contribute to their health savings accounts as part of the 2014 budget.

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