Based on the deliberations among county councilors on Wednesday night, Monroe County employees will likely receive 8.5-percent raises in 2024 compared to their pay this year.
But no final decisions were made. The council did undertake some adjustments to get closer to the goal of 8.5-percent raises.
There’s still some dust that needs to settle on the provisional adjustments to the 2024 budget that were made by the council on Wednesday. And the final vote on the budget won’t come until Oct. 17, after a first reading on Oct.10.
The formal public hearing on the county budget is about two weeks away, on Oct. 3.
In rough, round numbers, Monroe County’s total budget is around $90 million with about half of that made up by the general fund.
One kind of dust that has to settle on Wednesday’s work was mentioned by council administrator Kim Shell towards the end of Wednesday’s meeting: The salary grid figures reflecting an 8.5-percent raise will need to be converted from four-decimal precision to two decimal places.
The 8.5-percent increase was a goal from the start of the budgeting process, which kicked off with work sessions in the first week of September. The 8.5-percent figure stems from a recommendation by the county commissioners, who have a statutory obligation to make a recommendation on employee compensation.
The commissioners arrived at an 8.5-percent recommendation by taking a 6-percent increase to the CPI in 2022 and adding in a previous 2.5-point shortfall. That shortfall was between a 7.5-percent CPI increase in 2021 and the salary increase for county employees in 2023, which was 5 percent.
Based on a previous budget work session, the amount of additional revenue (or savings) that is needed to support each percentage point of a pay increase for county employees is about $380,000.
On Wednesday, the council made progress in big and small amounts alike. The biggest amount was $1 million in savings on the county health department budget, due to costs that the state of Indiana will now shoulder, as a result of new legislation governing local health departments.
County recorder Amy Swain aided the cause with a willingness to pay half the salary of a deputy recorder out of the recorder’s perpetuation fund. That’s an adjustment made on Wednesday that freed up about $25,000 for the general fund, to put towards salary increases.
The recorder’s perpetuation fund gets its revenue from fees paid to the recorder’s office. The fund is designed to ensure the preservation of records through technology upgrades, but can also be used for operations.
Another adjustment made by the county council on Wednesday was to move $140,000 in expenses for cradle point modem devices for the sheriff’s vehicles out of the public safety local income tax (PS LIT) fund into the expenses funded by cable franchise fees. That makes an additional $140,000 available to support salaries for sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers.
A point of discussion on Wednesday night was whether to increase the number of weekly hours for attorneys who serve as public defenders and county prosecutors—from 35 hours to 40 hours a week.
There seemed to be a consensus that the bump to 40 hours a week was warranted. Council president Kate Wiltz indicated she was in favor of that increase.
There was some discussion about whether the 8.5-percent increase should be layered on top of an increase to the number of hours for the attorneys. McKim said that looking at the raw percentage of the increase was the wrong way to think about it. The right way to analyze that would be in terms of the end result.
McKim put it like this: “When we’re talking about a compensation system, we want the end result to be fair.” He added, “But that doesn’t mean that the change to get there will also be perceived as fair.”
On Wednesday, the way the 8.5-percent increase would be applied to the attorneys did not get nailed down. Councilor Trent Deckard said that from his conversations with the prosecutor’s office, it is clear to him that recruitment of attorneys is a pressing problem. But the first priority, Deckard said, is making sure that the 8.5-percent cost-of-living increase for all employees is achieved.
There was a clear consensus on the council about the 8.5-percent increase. The increase will be based on additional revenue from an 4-percent increase in property tax revenue, the 3.75-percent increase in local income tax, added to significant additional revenue from interest income, and increased state funding of local health department costs.
There are some additional concerns besides the bump in hours for attorneys that some councilors are looking to address. Wiltz floated the idea of an additional $1,000 for jobs classified as COMOT (computer, office machine operation, technician) in the county’s salary grid. They’re on the low end of the grid.
Councilor Marty Hawk cautioned that many employees are paid out of grants. She said that care needs to be taken that the 8.5-percent increase is also workable for grant-funded employees.
Deckard stressed in his remarks that the apparent achievement of an 8.5-percent increase was owed to the efforts of the county’s many departments working to reduce costs and shift funding sources around to free up money to pay employees more.
“I appreciate the elected officials and department heads coming forward with the numbers to make this happen,” Deckard said.