LOWVILLE — When an undersheriff earns less money than an investigator, a public health specialist makes $1,000 more than their supervisor and some mid-level managers in the social services department take home less than some social workers, there may be a problem that needs fixing in the pay structure.
That was the conclusion reached by Lewis County Human Resources Director Christopher S. Boulio after a 2017 study by an independent consultant led to the creation of salary ranges for management employees.
Without a “step system” or other process to allow people to earn raises beyond standard cost of living increases, earnings by union staff members have been outpacing their non-union managers, Mr. Boulio explained to the county Finance and Rules Legislative Committee at its June meeting.
Both groups, the staff members and the managers, are eligible for cost of living increases but only the union employees have a concrete method of earning additional pay increases and bonuses for long-term service, keeping management employees at the bottom of their pay range.
“Here, management employees will never reach the maximum because there is no way to get there,” Mr. Boulio told the legislators.
For the past several months, Mr. Boulio has been scrambling to make sure these salary inversions are addressed before he retires at the end of this month.
In the July 23 committee meeting, he presented committee members with another option to the Management Salary System he had proposed in June, as they had requested.
The initial plan allows for a 2-percent raise on top of the cost of living increase until the person reaches the top of the salary range.
The system proposed in the most recent meeting is based on the 10 step system used by St. Lawrence County.
It calls for an equal number of steps to be created on either side of the mid-point in each salary range. Management employees will be placed on the closest step to their salary and can climb the steps until they reach the maximum salary in their range.
If a person starts on a higher step than the first, increases are likely to last less than 10 years, however, after 10 years of service and every five years after, those participating in the system will receive a flat $500 longevity bonus, Mr. Boulio explained.
“I’m uncomfortable with always putting people at the max in this county,” Committee Chairman Brian Moser said.
Because all increases will be based on merit, Mr. Boulio said not all participating employees will make it to their maximum salary.
The performance evaluation structure already in place in which department heads evaluate their managers and County Manager Ryan Piche assesses the 24 department heads, will remain in place.
In addition to making recommendations for cost of living increases to the board, the evaluators can also recommend a salary step increase on satisfactory reviews.
Committee members had questions about how much additional cost will be incurred in other benefits, like retirement, once a person has reached their maximum pay over the 10 years.
“It always seems that when we do something it costs a hell of a lot more money than when we started,” District 10 Legislator Jerry King said.
Mr. Piche and County Treasurer Patricia O’Brien said those costs could be calculated and would be provided at the regular board meeting.
“Step systems are often self-funded through attrition,” Mr. Boulio said.
As an example, he said this year nine departing long-term management employees would result in a savings of $58,899. The cost of the two percent increases for all eligible managers om the county above the cost of living increase will be $39,731 in 2020.
Although Mr. Boulio won’t see the fruit of his labors before he retires, the resolution on the salary system received a positive recommendation by a narrow margin of 3-2. It will move forward to the Aug. 6 full board meeting for further discussion and a vote for approval.