County employees to receive pay raises

Commissioners say government wages have been falling behind private sector

Posted 6/10/21

After going a couple years with no permanent raises, Park County government employees are set to receive a bump in pay in July.

At their Tuesday meeting, county commissioners voted 3-1 to increase …

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County employees to receive pay raises

Commissioners say government wages have been falling behind private sector


After going a couple years with no permanent raises, Park County government employees are set to receive a bump in pay in July.

At their Tuesday meeting, county commissioners voted 3-1 to increase county wages by an average of just under 4.5%. The decision will cost the county about $435,000 annually.

However, the figures are somewhat misleading, because commissioners awarded one-time bonuses last year that averaged about 2%. So the net year-over-year increase for the county is roughly 2.5% or $235,000. 

In approving one-time payments last year, commissioners said they wanted to reward their employees, but felt the county’s financial situation was too uncertain to approve permanent raises. This week, however, the board decided it wanted to do more in fiscal year 2021-22.

“The last two years, we balanced the budget by pulling any type of increases away from employees,” said Commissioner Dossie Overfield. “And so this year, we kind of thought, it’s time.”

Overfield said part of the issue is that county wages are falling behind the private sector. Commissioner Lloyd Thiel cast the lone vote against the raises, saying he wanted a smaller increase.

“It’s not because I don’t want to give you something,” he told the county leaders and workers in the commissioners’ meeting room, “I just think it’s too big a step at this juncture. I’d rather baby step this and not get ourselves in trouble.”

While agreeing the county’s wages are below the private sector, he pointed to its strong benefits package, suggesting the raises should be closer to 2.1%, to mirror the estimated annual increase to the cost of living.

“This is one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make since being a commissioner, personally, because truly, I’m not as heartless as many of you think,” Thiel said.

He said the county’s employees “are very important” and that he understood the thinking behind the proposal.

“But I also represent … all the constituents within our county that many of them say that we have a pretty good deal here at the county,” Thiel said.

While agreeing with the concerns about the cost of the raises, Commissioner Scott Mangold expressed more concern about attracting workers. He said hiring processes and other employee issues are taking staff away from their regular work.

“The competition for employees gets tougher and tougher, particularly here in Park County,” Mangold said, suggesting there’s a limited number of people who can do some of the jobs the county is offering.

“We don’t want to get to a point where ... we’re competing with Wendy’s to try to get employees to come in,” he said.

Travelers heading into Cody currently pass by a large sign promoting $15 an hour housekeeping positions. Meanwhile, some of the county’s entry level jobs start at $11.92 an hour. Under the new pay scale, the wages will now go up to at least $12.42.

That “is still, you know, not up there where other places are advertising, certainly,” Overfield said, “but the county does have some good benefits, and that has to come into play.”

Full-time employees receive health insurance for their entire family and a pension, with the county paying all of the insurance premiums (including an upcoming 5% increase) and most of the payments into the Wyoming Retirement System.

Back in April, commissioners adopted a committee recommendation to cap how much money the county is putting toward employees’ retirement benefits. Currently, the county makes the entire payment to the Wyoming Retirement System, equal to 18.12% of the worker’s salary. However, when the required contribution to the pension fund rises another 0.5% this summer, employees will be required to cover that expense; it will cost them about $18 a month on average, while allowing the county to avoid about $25,700 worth of annual expenses. Any subsequent increases may also fall on employees.

The committee studying county wages and benefits — made up of all the county’s elected officials and department heads — said it hoped the cap on retirement payments would come “with the understanding that the commissioners are willing to look at some increase in pay that should more than cover this expense for employees.” Overfield said then that the committee was thinking about raises in the 2-3% range.

Under the plan approved by commissioners on Tuesday, all county employees will receive a 50 cent per hour raise, while department and office leaders will decide how to split up the rest of funds, either spreading raises equally among all employees or rewarding top staffers.

Additionally, seven employees are receiving additional bumps for taking on additional job responsibilities and pay is being raised for certain provisional employees — such as litter pickers and flaggers.

In April, commissioners raised the salaries of several low-paying positions after hearing that it was becoming difficult to find and keep part-time jail cooks and custodial workers, plus full-time road and bridge operators. That change cost the county an estimated $56,600 a year. At the time commissioners were also told that pay for detention and patrol deputies was falling $3 or $4 an hour behind other law enforcement agencies.

While there are multiple factors, “pay is certainly an issue,” Sheriff Scott Steward said then. “It’s not uncommon for our people to go somewhere else for better pay.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners agreed that, instead of approving sporadic raises, it would be better to approve consistent pay hikes every year, to reward longevity and promote career advancement.

However, “I just don’t know that we can say that,” Overfield said, noting that, “we have no idea what next year looks like” from a budget perspective. The current year’s budget was given a multi-million dollar boost by one-time CARES Act funds.

In an interview, Overfield said the county’s department heads and elected officials are well aware that funds could tighten in a year and there could be layoffs.

Part of the agreement on the committee was that “if we could get something done this year to help the employees that have helped us through all this, there’s a chance it may not hold,” she said. “But we’re going to try.”

The county’s elected officials and their first deputies are not eligible for any of the raises approved Tuesday; their pay will rise by a more modest average of around 1%, following a plan approved years ago.