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Putnam Committee Requests Numbers To Meet Salary Study Increases

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader
Putnam Committee Requests Numbers To Meet Salary Study Increases

The Putnam County Budget Committee asking all department heads and elected officials to take the new salary study and figure out how much it would cost to fund all the changes needed.

The work will be based on the average differences for each position based on similar-sized cities and counties as well as the private sector. County Mayor Randy Porter said he would not even hazard a guess at what the total cost might be.

Commissioner Chris Cassetty voted against the request, saying he does not want to get the hopes up of county employees.

“I’m not saying we should or shouldn’t do anything, but I do want to remind everybody on the budget committee what we were handed is $10.8 million deficit,” Cassetty said. “And anything we do that we’re talking about right now does not make that deficit better. It makes that deficit worse.”

Chair Bed Rodgers told the committee the current budget requests would require a 48 cent property tax increase. Cassetty said that kind of increase would not get 13 votes to pass from the county commission.

“Asking them to do this, it may not be your intention but asking them to do this may provide the perception of these employees that we are going to do something,” Rodgers said. “And I don’t want to give them a false hope, but I want to do what we can to help them.”

Budget Committee Member Jonathan Williams said he wanted to see numbers to truly understand what a real marketplace adjustment by the county, might cost.

“I would like to see the department heads do the work and let’s get a clear picture of what would this cost us if we were to fund the whole thing,” Williams said. “And then from there, we as a commission can decide, okay, that’s too much, or this is what we can do, what we can’t do. But until we actually get the black and white numbers to see what it’s going to cost us, we’re flying blind a little bit.”

The study shared two weeks ago looked at comparable cities and counties, both in size and structure, as well as the private sector. Putnam County salaries trailed in most categories with some jobs $10,000 to $20,000 less than the going rate.

The current budget includes an increase in step raises for all county employees, from $600 to $1,000 for non-emergency personnel. Porter told budget committee members several weeks ago the step raise amounts have not changed in some time. The Pay Scale Committee recommended the increase and for commissioners to further study the new pay study in the next fiscal year.

The step raises can be a mixed bag of results, according to Sheriff Eddie Farris. He noted that in Wilson County, for example, a newcomer can reach his/her top salary in months instead of the years it takes in Putnam County. Farris said that makes Putnam County vulnerable.

“You’re there, you’re at top pay, so they don’t lose anybody because I can’t afford to go hire somebody from them,” Farris said. And for us, when you’re on a 20-year pay scale like we are, there’s other offices that can pay more money initially, so we lose a few folks from time to time because of that.”

EMS Director Tommy Copeland said it can be difficult to get young employees to understand that reaching your maximum salary earlier is best for your career, even without annual salary increases.

Fire Chief Tom Brown told the committee that starting salaries are where Putnam County struggles most. The salary study showed a Fire Captain, for example, started some $28,200 less than comparable communities.

Commissioner Sam Sandlin said it might make sense to look at a percentage increase, instead of just a flat rate increase. Sandlin said it is critical with inflation’s impacts on salaries.

“If we’re not thinking about getting some traction here, we’re not thinking right,” Sandlin said.

Porter said many cities and counties, including Cookeville, use that strategy. He said at one time, county commissioners awarded percentage increases.

“They stopped because they didn’t want the low level employee to be getting a lower raise than what the high level employee is, even though the high level employee makes more to start with,” Porter said. “So they stopped that and just gave flat across the board raises.”

Rodgers told the committee they can consider, along with the full county commission, a wide range of options including step raises, cost-of-living adjustments, or percentage increases. He said he did not want to waste the leadership’s time if the committee was not serious.

“Let the department heads know that we are going to do something in the plus category, not in the minus,” Commissioner Dale Moss said. “That we’re going to do something to help them out.”

The current budget, before deliberations, includes some 92 new employees, the majority of those in the sheriff’s department for the expanded justice facility.

Porter will work with department heads and elected officials to come up with the total dollar amount to get all employees to the average salary as calculated between public and private sectors. In the cases where Putnam County pays more than the average, the focus will be on making sure starting salaries are representative.


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