Polk County Commission Budget Work Session 2019

County Manager Matt Denton and Finance Director Muriel Dulaney talked about the different figures provided in the recent Carl Vinson Institute Pay Study draft presented to the County Commission in June.

The Polk County Commission will be pushing back when they’ll approve a 2020 fiscal year budget to their August meeting in order to finish up work on a change in the pay scale for employees that began in 2018.

A long-awaited pay study remains in draft form from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, but it getting close enough to completion for Commissioners to begin discussing how to implement their proposed new pay scale for employees and where funds will come from to ensure the county budget can cover the price tag of between $800,000 and $1.2 million.

Those figures proposed by County Manager Matt Denton during a June 11 budget work session set to discuss the pay study doesn’t include the additional money that would be needed to fund increases for the 2020 Fiscal Year.

For now, the county will operate under a continuing resolution as they have in the past few years to settle budget numbers for the coming year, and to figure out whether a millage rate increase will be required as well for the coming tax bills.

Commissioners settled on a plan to approve the budget in August to allow for county administration the additional time they’ll need to make budget adjustments for the year.

“There are several things that we’ll go over that I think we’ll need to have in place to get the pay system up for consideration,” Commission Chair Jennifer Hulsey said during the second budget work session earlier in the month.

No one argued with the idea and to alleviate the budget issue for the time being, commissioners will consider at the beginning of July a continuing resolution to keep the budget figures in place for the time being until everything can be finalized and salary requirements be adjusted in the FY 2020 proposed budget.

County Manager Matt Denton said the move to August approval for the FY 2020 budget will also help in being able to comfortably determine where the millage rate will need to be set ahead of tax bills going out in September to county property owners.

A 48-page draft report provides Polk County with an overview on how the pay study was conducted, and what methodology they used to determine what positions would be classified in the new pay scale structure.

It required the Carl Vinson Institute to generate new position descriptions, to put in place a grading system of where those job should be in the pay scale based on both the requirements of the job and market trends around the area and state, and to then generate two different tables for the pay scale: one for general employees, and one specifically tailored to those in public safety.

Those pay scales are designed to take into account both the number of years on the job an employee has, plus their level of training or higher education attained for their position.

So for instance where the pay scale starts at a proposed $19,807 for a brand new, Grade A-7 employee who doesn’t have a year of experience yet, it can go all the way to a Grade V-24 at $111,944 for an employee with 40-plus years of experience and education in an administrative position. On average and in draft form, employees under a general government pay scale in the county could range from $30,000 to $50,000 a year in salary compensation based on years of experience and their job grade.

This is completely separate from the grading scale put in place for Public Safety officials. Their salary requirements, say for an Animal Control officer with no experience, could be $25,015 a year and range to a 40-year veteran of the department at a proposed $37,915 a year. The dispatchers and operators within 911 would start at a proposed $28,441 a year for a salary, and go up to $51,449 a year based on experience of again someone with 40-plus years of service.

Polk County Police Officers would be in three different grade ranges and run from $34,889 a year to upward of $61,918 a year based on experience and time in uniform. Sheriff’s deputies and jailers would have seven grades ranging from a proposed beginning salary of $28,251 a year for the first grade, all the way to $77,026 a year at the highest grade with the most time in uniform with the county at 40-plus years.

There’s an alternate version of the pay scale tables for Public Safety officials that brings some of the first-year costs down, and would start an Animal Control officer out at $27,659 for a brand new employee and range upward to $41,922 a year in salary for those with 40-plus years experience in the department. The 911 service would start dispatchers out at around $30,000 a year under this plan, and they would cap out at more than $54,000 a year annually.

Police officers, Sheriff’s deputies and jailers in an alternate pay table have similar salaries adjusted as well.

Additionally, there’s one other side of the new pay scale that will increase costs as well in the form of payroll taxes and benefits for employees. Both the cost of paying the county’s portion of coverage for federal and state income and payroll deductions like Social Security and Medicare taxes will have to be accounted for as the pay scale increases for each employee, as well as for covering retirement benefits as well.

Current full-time payroll according to the report for the county is more than $8.3 million. Under either plan, it would at least send payroll to at the low end $9.1 million, or under the alternate plan upward of more then $9.1 million.

Some of the payroll — especially in areas like specialized positions within the court system needed for day-to-day operations — are funded through the help of state or federal grants which does defer some of the annual payroll costs. Much of the salary burden for full and part time employees still falls on county administration and commissioners to find additional funding within the budget.

The report generated pay figures based on not just the grade of the position, but how similar or same positions within surrounding counties and those around the state with similar populations as Polk County paid to employees.

Those included Bartow, Carroll, Douglas, Paulding, Gordon, Baldwin, Colquitt, Gilmer, Habersham and Murray counties, alongside the Cities of Carrollton, Douglasville, Rome, Acworth, Cartersville, Powder Springs, Cedartown, Rockmart and Buchanan. Additional wage study figures were also used in calculations from Banks, Chattooga, Elbert, Fannin, Franklin, Greene, Hart, Jackson, Lumpkin, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union and White counties.

“The information on this survey helped assess the competitiveness of Polk County’s salaries to the broader labor market (all industry sectors) within the North Georgia non-metropolitan area,” the study reported.

Officials from the Carl Vinson Institute said in their draft study provided to the county commission that compression of salaries between employees with different levels of experience might be an issue based on the new grading system, which was built into the final cost of the two alternate pay grade plans. So they suggest a one-time adjustment to fix the problem for only eligible employees.

“The eligibility for the compression adjustment is based on two factors. The first criteria is an employee’s time in their current position with Polk County. The second eligibility requirement for the compression adjustment is related to an employee’s proposed salary relative to their step on the compensation plans,” the report stated. “As a reminder, the Institute of Government designed the steps on all of the compensation plans to be linked to an employee’s time in their current position.”

Another suggestion within the draft report that will also increase payroll costs in the future is the need for annual market adjustment to salaries to remain competitive, along with “additional in-range salary adjustments (i.e. step increases, etc.) to individual employees based solely on or a combination of their length of service, performance, and knowledge/skill acquisition. These individual adjustments would be applied as an increase within the respective salary range of each employee.”

“Thus, Polk County may budget for two annual personnel cost adjustments: 1) an across-the-board increase which raises every employee’s salary and pay equally when market conditions dictate, and 2) annual individual employee increases linked to employee service, knowledge/skill acquisition, and/or performance,” the report stated.

Additional discussion was held during the June budget work session over how annual step increases for cost of living adjustments will be handled under the new pay scale, and Denton asked the commission when they do make those annual adjustments to stick with a flat rate, and not something like 1.25 or 1.75 percent to make figuring out the costs of annual adjustments easier.

Denton also pointed out that some people with more specialized education or training — such as a mechanic with technical certificates or someone with a degree in a field that will further their benefit to the county as an employee — should also get additional grade steps added to their salary requirements.

He pointed toward the idea that “we’ll get a more well-rounded employee” out of those with advanced degrees being hired or those who are willing to continue their education.

“You could fit in any position that would benefit from that degree,” Denton said.

Commissioners agreed in principle, but pointed out that some limitations needed to be put in place based on the type of degree. For instance, commissioners pointed toward the example of a mechanic’s training being of more value than that of say, a dental hygienist who might seek the same position in Public Works, but not have the same background.

The County Commission’s Finance Committee is gathering Wednesday afternoon for a meeting to discuss any potential errors that might need correction by the Carl Vinson Institute, as well as work to finalize where funds in the annual budget will be drawn from to help cover the cost of pay scale adjustments. That meeting is being held at 2 p.m. in the County Administration’s conference room in Cedartown.

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