Commissioners discuss wages of county employees
|Emery County sheriff's deputies make less money than officers working for the highway patrol and the Carbon County law enforcement agencies.|
Donna Sackett, Central Utah Area Director of Senator Robert Bennett's office, made a presentation to the Emery County Commissioners during their recent meeting. "We would like to make ourselves more available to constituents and help them with anything they need. We have five offices spread over the state, and our office covers this four county area and we have many specialists to handle any problem that may arise.
"Some of our specialists deal with veteran affairs, social security problems, medicare and medicaid. We have many resources to help folks in rural Utah," said Sackett. She then introduced two of her associates, Bruce Richeson, who is a senior advisor, and Kylene Brooks, who is a constituent liaison. All three expressed their desire to help Emery County and its residents in any way possible.
Sackett explained the recent funding appropriations for Emery County. She stated that $8 million has been appropriated, to be distributed over the next four years, for the completion of the South Moore cut-off road. The completion of this project will shorten the drive time and mileage between the east and the west side of the county.
PILT, payment in lieu of taxes, appropriations are monies distributed to rural areas of the United States with a large amount of public lands for which no taxes are collected. This year, $236 million has been allocated for PILT to be distributed to rural areas nationwide.
Commissioner Ira Hatch expressed his interest in the healthy forest initiative. He told Sackett that with the large number of insect killed trees, this area needs help to find a solution to the problem. With the dead trees, and the probability of a catastrophic fire, the water quality and sediment problems would increase rapidly in this area. "We need to get some timber sales going. We also need some help to disseminate the Help America Vote act," said Hatch. This act is in the implementation stage now, and Hatch requested helped with interpretation.
Sheriff Lamar Guymon expressed his appreciation to Sen. Bennett's office staff for the help the Emery County Sheriff's Office has received with applying for and obtaining grants. Ray Petersen stated that Sackett and her staff are very supportive in anything Emery County has asked.
Sheriff Guymon presented an in-house study which had been done comparing law enforcement salaries within Emery and Carbon counties and the Utah Highway Patrol. The study compared wages paid to beginning, experienced, and certified and uncertified employees. The study showed that a beginning officer for Carbon County Sheriff's Office, Price City Police Department, and the Utah Highway Patrol, are making more in salary than a certified officer who has been with the Emery County Sheriff's Office for more than 10 years.
The study also included average wages for jobs in the area such as coal miners and truck drivers, with or without experience. These jobs were included for a comparison of what the average wage earner can make in the private sector. "We are proposing a 10 percent increase in wages for the officers. Even with a 10 percent increase, Emery County still would not meet the other agencies, that would take a 20 percent increase," said Guymon. "We are asking that you take a look at this study, and consider our request.
"At the present time, we are in jeopardy of losing one or more officers to the highway patrol. Losing one officer is a crisis to us. These men have a number of certifications that would be costly to replace. Retraining someone is very expensive and it takes a year for someone to get through POST, and become certified. It's hard for these officers to raise a family on these wages. On a statewide comparison, Emery County has the second lowest paid officers," said Guymon.
One deputy explained that his brother was recently hired by the Utah Highway Patrol and is making more than $1 an hour more than he does, and he has been with the Emery County Sheriff's Office more than five years, and is certified where his brother is not. Another deputy stated that most of the officers on the force earn so little money that they qualify for food stamps, medicaid, and the WIC program.
Another comment from an officer was that the other agencies around the area focus on one thing. The Utah Highway Patrol does traffic control. Others focus on hazardous materials handling, and still others do only police work and investigations. He then stated that in Emery County the officers are required to do all parts of the spectrum because the Emery County Sheriff's Office is Emery County's only law enforcement agency.
Commissioner Hatch said, "We understand and appreciate what you are saying. We've wrestled with this problem for many years. Benefits are costly. We pay $10,000-$15,000 per year, per employee for benefits. I don't think that we are that low in comparison if benefits are taken into consideration. We'll look at this, but we can't address it immediately. Maybe during the budget process."
Another comment from the officers was that one county employee who has been on the job a short time is making more than a 20 year veteran with the sheriff's office. Commissioner Drew Sitterud stated, "Every department in the county is below what other parts of the state are paying."
Commissioner Gary Kofford explained, "As you look at the new equipment that the sheriff's office has been receiving, you think that they have plenty of money. This new equipment and supplies are coming from grants acquired elsewhere, either Homeland Security or some other place. Salaries come from the tax base and that is what we have to work with. Road maintenance comes from the mineral lease money. The road department is hurting too. Let us see what we can do."
"On July 1, insurance went up 11 percent, which is not as big a jump as in years past. Two years ago it was 17 percent. This is a per month, per employee cost to the county. Some of the county employees take home less money than what their insurance costs per month," said Kofford.
"We will write you good letters of reference if that's what you want. The highway patrol will hire maybe only three of you. We could give you more to take home in your paycheck, but we will need to take it from your benefit package. Don't make any rash decisions. Check out the others and their benefits packages," said Hatch.
"Let me explain one other thing," said Commissioner Kofford. "If a person lives on the Wasatch Front and has access to an IHC, the insurance rates are lower. In this area, we have no competition. Our hospital is independent and our insurance company cannot match the rates of those up north on the Wasatch Front. Wages are one of the things we trade off to live in this area as opposed to the Wasatch Front."
Rex Funk, of the Emery County Road Department, stated, "I'm having the same problem with wages and employees. Our last study was done in 1998, and it may be time to do another one. A 60 percent benefit package is a wonderful thing, but these young families need the money to get by. I'm losing one employee to private industry. One of the truck drivers is going where he can make more money.
"We need help. We are losing good people to other jobs, and we can't get replacements because of the low wages. All the county's employees are great people and well qualified for their jobs, but maybe it's time to look at the situation again. Maybe there is a way to get the mineral lease money to go into the general fund. We need to be more creative with ideas before we lose any more employees.
"I hope you can come up with a solution, We have the finest employees anywhere and we want to keep them. These boys in the sheriff's office see a lot, more than any of us can imagine," said Funk.
All three commissioners stated that they would work on a solution and try to come up with some answers.
In other business conducted by the commissioners, Allison Wells was given the remainder of her Miss Emery County scholarship money. Also, Commissioner Sitterud suggested the placement of the Museum of the San Rafael to be put into the top priority classification on the CIB capital improvement list. The museum has some drainage problems that are in dire need of repair.
Sheriff Guymon presented a $5,000 check to the EMTs. This funding was received from PacifiCorp to purchase a monitoring mannequin for training purposes. An agreement was renewed to provide bailiff services to the Seventh Judicial District Court.
Two separate small portions of property were discussed and the commissioners approved to begin the process to sell the properties. One parcel is in Lawrence and the other is in Cleveland.
In the matter of two ambulance charge write-offs, the commissioners approved to write-off a portion of one of the bills, and to deny the request of write-off for the other. The commissioners approved to re-enter and continue the agreement for approval of the Drug Court. It was also approved to provide the county's new building inspector with a cell phone. A payment in lieu of taxes request by Emery County Housing Authority was denied.
In personnel action, routine pay increases were given four employees. Also, a resignation from a road department employee was accepted, and permission was given to begin the process to replace that employee.
In a closing statement, Commissioner Kofford expressed his appreciation to the Emery County Economic Development Council. "If it hadn't been for them, the South Moore cut-off road project would never had been started. About 20 years ago, they had the idea to do the project, and now it is happening. It may take several more years to complete, but it will help with tourism and Green River access."
The next Emery County Commission meeting will be held Aug. 16 at 4 p.m. at the sheriff's office in Green River.