Editors note: This article was changed to reflect the actual amount of a failed referendum to raise funds in Tazewell County from .49 cents to .64 cents per every $100 of equalized assessed valuation. Also, those who won the primary election for county positions still have to win the general election in November if a challenger is on the ballot.

 

 

The Tazewell County Human Resources Committee faced hard decisions Tuesday evening involving elected official compensation and the hiring of three replacement personnel.

The HR committee meets every four years to set salaries for elected officials. This year, voters elected a new sheriff, county clerk and treasurer. The sheriff elect, Chief Deputy Jeff Lower, comes to the office with many years of experience with the department, serving in all of the ranks. The new County Clerk is John Ackerman. He has no experience in that position. And Treasurer Mary Burress retained her position of many years. Those are the winners of the primary election. The winners could change in the November General Election.

The decision is not an easy one, because the county is facing lean times in the coming years and cuts are immanent, said Tazewell County Board Administrator Wendy Ferrill. Voter rejected a referendum in March asking for an increase from .49 cents to .64 cents, or 15 cents per $100 assessed valuation. The county has not increased taxes in many years and under PTELL the board cannot make up for that, said Ferrill.

The committee could not reach an agreement on the salaries for elected officials, but the committee did approve the juvenile probation positions and the probations operations position. The 80 percent of the salaries of the probation officers is paid by a grant, and the operations assistant performs drug testing. That program has been expanded, and the county is testing for other counties now. It is hoped it will earn enough in the future to pay the operations assistants salary.

Ferrill said she tries not to advise the County Board about issues surrounding elected officials, but she did give some background on the current state of employment.

“We don’t have a wage freeze, we have a hiring freeze,” said Ferrill. “So the reason this is being brought to approve the court services position is because they want the board to waive that.

“At this time, we haven’t made any calls on any wage freeze. We are in discussions right now on how we maneuver through this since that referendum didn’t pass. We have subgroups working at this time. One is working on personnel. One is looking at a capitol improvement plan. We are looking at our fees and services, what we offer, to bring back to the board by June some parameters for the budget so we can address it.”

During a lengthy discussion, several board members came up with four possibilities that will be voted on at an in-place meeting of the HR committee at the March 25 County Board meeting. The full board will then vote on the final HR recommendation, if one is reached.

The four possibilities include a freeze at the current salaries for the next four years, a freeze for two years and then a cost of living increase in the third and fourth year, a 2 percent raise in each year, and finally a yet-to-be approved base salary for non-incumbents with a cost of living increase in each year.

State law requires that the salary be set 180 days before the individual takes office, so the issue can be put off until the end of May, said HR Committee Chairwoman Nancy Proehl. She suggested a freeze on all three of the elected positions being considered this year.

HR Committee Member Mike Harris said there are people coming into office who have been in their respective departments for 20 years or more and that people coming into office as newcomers should start at a base wage and work their way up like everyone else. If base salaries are set, some people could take elected office and get paid less than they did as department heads prior to elections, said Harris.

Committee member Mike Godar said a base salary of $71,900 would be a starting place for a newcomer.

Committee member Brett Grimm said, “I think as we know now that we have decreasing sales (tax), decreasing revenues, and it’s getting tighter. We’re going to end up at some point here asking people to cut jobs. It’s going to get to a point where we don’t have that choice because we didn’t make the referendum ....”