Raises lead to heated debates in PCC

Published 7:17 pm Monday, September 8, 2008

Granting county employees annual raises has led to heated debates at the Pike County Commission table, but for many neighboring counties it’s not an issue.

Officials from Dale, Barbour and Crenshaw Counties all said county employees are given raises only in years they can afford to give them.

None of these counties have a pay structure similar to Pike County’s, which sets starting salary scales and grants all full- and part-time employees a 3 percent raise each year.

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“We certainly have a system, but our system is not based on a table of pay rate,” Dale County Administrator Frank Carroll said.

Carroll said when county raises are granted, they are done across the board. He said commissioners make the call on years they can afford to.

In Crenshaw County, pay raises are determined much like in Dale.

“If there’s a cost of living increase, the commission looks at the budget and determines if they can afford to give one,” Crenshaw County Administrator David Smyth said. “This year is unfortunately one of the years they can not.”

Other counties said raises for employees just don’t happen across the board.

“Unless there is a job promotion, there have not been any raises as far as across the board raises,” Barbour County Administrator Kristy Stell said. “There were none this year, and there weren’t any last year.”

Even in years when Pike County has borrowed money to balance the budget, county employees have been granted 3 percent raises across the board.

Pike County Commission Chairman Robin Sullivan said pay raises, while guaranteed by an adopted pay system, aren’t something that just happen without compromise elsewhere.

“We have to look at that year by year as well, and in the past, in order for that to have happened, somebody’s had to suffer,” Sullivan said. “And that has been happening since I’ve been a commissioner, with all of our departments doing without something, which we were glad to do.”

Sullivan said commissioners have started a 10-year debt reduction program, and through this program the county can still afford to give raises to employees.

“We are on a plan that resolves our debt within 10 years, but we feel like we will be able to resolve that debt in less than that,” Sullivan said. “Because there was an overage in the budget (this year) from what we have projected that we could still give the raise and have a small overage.”

A study completed in 2000 by the County Commission led to the adoption of the current pay system. The system was based on one used by Lee County, Sanders said.

Smyth said Crenshaw County is considering doing a study like Pike’s to set a pay system, but he’s not certain they would be able to afford its adoption.

Pay systems offering annual raises are uncommon in counties the size of Pike, said Sonny Brasfield, assistant director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.

“Most counties have developed a pay scale, and most counties have an annual raise, especially larger counties where the job market would be more competitive,” Brasfield said. “I think the small counties have some difficult challenges, and in general, the more rural counties would have a more difficult time making a commitment to a pay scale like this.”