For several years, ever since Wisconsin Act 10 reduced union rights to the point that nearly all of the county’s organized labor groups decided not to hold annual renewal votes, the Grant County Board has been looking at ways they could continue the transition to move all those former employees under one system when dealing with their wages.
On Tuesday night, one new idea was revealed to the board that would take the seven different wage schedules throughout the county, and make one cohesive schedule that covers 329 of the county’s employees.
But that plan did not receive a motion, nor a vote for its adoption because several department heads in the audience argued that the transition proposed affected the county’s most senior employees detrimentally, while also arguing that some of the descriptions did not effectively reflect the skill level they bring to the job.
One of the big things the item brought before the board by Personnel Director Joyce Roling was that the county would eliminate longevity pay - additional wages added to a worker’s base salary for many years on the job.
Instead, each employee, whose job has been classified at a certain skill level, would be placed in such skill level and placed on a step system, which gives raises after reaching a certain amount of time with the county. Those steps plateau at some point, and once reached the worker would only get an increase if the board increased the wages, or if their post would be reclassified.
To move employees to the new system, their current pay, including longevity, would be moved onto the new pay scale. If their current wages were above what step they were on, the wages would be frozen until such time the scale had caught up to what they were being paid.
If implemented, the plan would have meant that 108 employees would have received less than a raise if the county were to give a two percent raise this next year. Of those, 25 would have gotten no increase in wage at all.
Highway Commissioner Dave Lambert had a problem with how different workers were classified, noting that in his department it would mean some may get a raise of $1,800, while others would get a raise of $80. “It’s not fair to those who have been here a long time,” Lambert stated.
Others had a problem with the wage schedule’s proposed length, three years. Social Services Director Fred Naatz was concerned that because of how the schedule worked, he would continue to get employees fresh out of college, just like he does now for openings, but after a year on the job, they would leave for another job where they could make more money, creating a turnover of staff.
Finance Director Nancy Scott said she was a big proponent of eliminating longevity pay. “Are you compensating for the work that is done or time on the job?” she asked the board, giving the example of two employees, one on the job for five years, another for 20 years, doing the exact same job. Scott asked if the wages should be the same for both, or should the more senior employee get more, as well as more vacation time, and being further vested in the retirement plan.
Scott defended the classification, stating that it was not to show what skills the current person on the job has, but what the position needs if they were to hire a new person for the job tomorrow.
“I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like pushing it on to someone else,” Vern Lewison said on the idea of eliminating longevity.
County board chair Bob Keeney suggested a compromise on the issue. Seeing projections for the budget, Keeney said if everyone was diligent, and able to bring across a tight county budget, he believed the county would be able to afford a two percent raise. For those employees who would not receive the two percent raise, the county would give them a one percent raise. While it means some could be frozen on the next budget, they would get a raise this year, and it still would bring them closer in line with the step in future years.
While the compromise addressed some problems he had with it, Lambert was still unhappy with the classification, as it still had a discrepancy of some workers’ skills.
Calling for any motion, Keeney did not hear anything from the floor, and considered the issue dead. “I guess we’re back to the drawing board.” He noted that while the plan was to get everyone to a unified plan, maybe it just is not possible.
In other county board business, the county is scrapping the idea of borrowing money for the ongoing courthouse project, as legal counsel told them it could mean headaches down the road.
Earlier this year, the board had voted to borrow most of the money for the $2.022 million refurbishment project. The borrowing of funds was deemed a good idea by the board for two reasons: By borrowing the funds, it means the money already in the capital improvement coffers could be used if another capital project arose that needed to be addressed right away and; the county could borrow at an interest rate of one percent, so that it would not have to tap funds already invested, which were getting a higher rate of return.
It’s that potential difference in return versus interest which legal counsel for the county said would bring up an arbitrage issue. Because the county cannot make a profit by borrowing money at a reduced price because of its status as a government body, while investing money it had available for the type of project, collecting a greater rate of interest than the rate of the loan, Scott noted that the recommendation was to utilize the $1.118 million the county has already in its capital improvement fund to pay for much of the project, and pay for the remaider of the project with the annual portion of the levy devoted towards the capital improvements.
Supervisor Gary Ranum addressed the board to give them an update on the railroad commission. Last month, the board had been addressed by Roddy Dull, who was looking for some support for an idea of creating a crossing on the Wisconsin River for a recreational trail. Dull had floated the idea to build a cantilever bridge connected to the current rail bridge as one idea.
Ranum said that the idea was floated in front of separate groups, and it was believed that the idea would be soundly rejected. However, because the section of rail running from Madison to Prairie du Chien, (known as the Prairie Sub) is such a widely used corridor, the railroad commission is looking at ways to improve the stretch, including replacing the current bridge with a new one.
Because of the possible funding sources for recreation activities like the one Dull was proposing, Ranum said that the railroad and Dull’s group are working to see about applying for funds that would help in the construction of a new rail bridge, including the pedestrian crossing.
Ranum said that the railroad is already replacing large amounts of ties, and is looking towards welled rail in order to get the speed on the line up to 25 mph, whereas right now they are limited to 10 mph in areas.