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County gives raise to some workers

By Staff | Nov 9, 2009

Debate. Debate. And, more debate.

But in the end, Faribault County commissioners voted 3-2 to give non-union employees a 2.9 percent pay increase in 2010, while freezing the wages of elected and appointed officials.

The raises are part of a recommendation from Central Services coordinator Brenda Ripley.

The non-union employees also would be subjected to taking seven days off without pay.

Questions of fairness, pay equity and unpaid furloughs entered the discussion to put commissioners on opposite sides of the issue and make the vote close.

Freezing the wages of non-union workers is an option, says Ripley, that could result in failing pay equity requirements.

Ripley says she knows of a couple of counties not in compliance.

“I think Carver County had a $100,000 fine and the $100 a day they are not in compliance,” she says.

If the county officials decide on a pay freeze, Ripley says they would have three years to get back into compliance.

Board chairman Tom Loveall, who serves on the personnel committee, has been consistent in towing the line on spending, saying that “desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Commissioner Bill Groskreutz, also on the personnel committee, agrees with Loveall.

“Our recommendation will have to be based on what is best for the county’s residents,” says Groskreutz.

Non-union employees did not get a raise this year and also agreed to taking furloughs as a way to cuts costs.

Meanwhile, employees of two unions negotiated 3 percent increases and also signed letters supporting furloughs.

Several commissioners argued that workers taking a freeze in pay sacrificed to help the county in tough times and shouldn’t be asked to do it again next year.

“Why punish non-union people for not joining a union? That’s a bunch of B.S.,” Commissioner Butch Erichsrud told the board in defending the 2.9 percent pay raises.

Ripley says if the board doesn’t treat non-union workers fairly, they may decide to form a union.

Loveall says contracts with union workers were negotiated when the economic climate was more favorable; suggesting the state’s budget problems aren’t over and that could result in less aid.

But, Commissioner Tom Warmka disagreed.

“I think our employees did an excellent job of taking cuts this year,” he says. “It’s not “if,” it’s when are the next state aid cuts coming?”

Commissioner John Roper says giving a 2.9 percent increase, “shows some good faith for what they did last year.”

Not all the commissioners favor using a seven-day furlough.

Roper says he’s gotten a lot of heat over the program from employees who dislike it.

Loveall says furloughs don’t work for all employees — such as those in law enforcement, however, they are a way to prevent layoffs.

Erichsrud says he favors furloughs because it helped keep people working.

“I believe in them and always have. There are six counties in southern Minnesota going with furloughs,” he says.

Groskreutz thinks requiring furloughs isn’t necessary, but they could be used next year if there are cuts in state aid.

Groskreutz made a motion to leave elected, appointed and non-union wages at the current level, but it died for lack of a second.

Commissioner Tom Warmka’s motion to give non-union workers a 2.9 percent pay increase passed on a 3-2 vote, with Loveall and Groskreutz voting against.

A motion by Groskreutz to put elected and appointed employee pay at the level they were supposed to get this year failed on a 4-1 vote. Passage would have meant a 3 percent hike for elected officials and no increase for appointed workers.

Warmka’s motion to freeze the pay of appointed employees passed unanimously, because they received increases last year.

Finally, elected officials’ pay will remain the same. The motion made by Warmka passed 4-1, with Groskreutz voting against.

In other business, the board voted to expand the service area of Prairie Express buses to go outside the county.

The buses will go north to Highway 30, including the cities of Mapleton and Amboy.

To the east, they will go to Highway 13 and Interstate 35.

The western border is Highway 15 and includes the cities of Fairmont, Truman and Northrop.

Buses will not operate past the Iowa border.

The out-of-county service is available during normal operating hours.

The cost is $3 for a one-way trip if the ride originates in Faribault County, or $6 round trip.

If the bus leaves Faribault County to bring someone back into the county, the cost is $6 one way.