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Emotions high at budget adoption

Discussion focuses on seniority, level of pay

September 18, 2013
Despite being contentious at times, the Crawford County Council, meeting in an all-day session last Tuesday at the judicial complex in English, achieved its goal of cutting enough from the almost $3.6 million advertised 2014 General Fund to get beneath the $3.3 million maximum levy but to allow enough of a cushion to approve up to $144,000 in additional appropriations throughout the next year.

The most contentious moments didn't come from discussion between the seven members of the council. Instead, they came as a result of courthouse employees upset that the employee being hired to replace the retiring comptroller in the Auditor's Office would earn more than they do, despite some having been employed with the county for years.

"This has absolutely nothing to do with the person," Vicki McLain, the chief deputy in the Treasurer's Office, said, while the others agreed.

That person is Tammy Byerly, a former assessor for the county, who was hired by Auditor Ricki Hawkins to replace Dottie Parke, who will leave at the end of the year. Hawkins had requested that Byerly earn at least the same as Parke, who is being paid $24,104 in 2013.

Hawkins hired Byerly after the council in July approved (5-1; Doug McLain, Vicki McLain's husband, against and Jim Taylor absent) her filling the position on a part-time basis for the remainder of the year in order to train with Parke before becoming full time in 2014.

For 2014, chief and first deputies will earn $23,579, with the exception of the chief deputy auditor, who will make $25,343 because of taking notes during the council's and commissioners' monthly meetings. While the commissioners have moved to day meetings, the council still meets in the evening, after the courthouse offices are closed. Regular deputies will earn $22,495.

All of these salaries are the same as 2013.

Other deputies with McLain were Sherry Barnes of the Assessor's Office, Jan Barrow of the Recorder's Office, Beth House of the Clerk's Office and Nicole Wright of the Recorder's Office.

Council president Jerry Brewer, who is in his fifth four-year term, said previous councils increased Parke's pay in an effort to retain her. As comptroller, Parke's duties include, among other things, preparing the annual property tax abstract. Not only does she work with the Auditor's Office, but she works with the Assessor's Office.

It was suggested that it would be difficult to hire someone for the position at a lower salary. Vicki McLain, however, suggested the Auditor's Office could "absorb the position," to which Hawkins and Peggy Bullington, auditor from 2003-2010 and the office's current chief deputy, said the position has too many responsibilities.

Although she didn't say to whom, Hawkins added that she had offered the position to two of the five deputies questioning the new comptroller's pay before hiring Byerly, but they declined.

As the discussion continued and emotions heightened, McLain questioned how busy the comptroller's position really is, noting there seems to be a lot of downtime. That resulted in a response from Hawkins and Bullington, who noted the Treasurer's Office seems to have its downtime as well.

Councilman Steve Bartels, trying to get the discussion back on track, said there seemed to be two main thoughts among the deputies: 1. New employees should be hired at a lesser pay rate; and 2. The jobs of the deputies are all the same no matter the office. He and Councilman William Breeding said they don't agree with the latter.

Councilwoman Sharon Wilson said each office has its own busy period during the year, such as the Treasurer's Office during tax time. Bullington, who also served eight years as the county clerk, however, said House's workload is just as intense each day.

Bullington added that the Auditor's Office was the only one to lose two positions in 2008, when the county, because of budget concerns, forced cuts in each office.

Bartels said, and Breeding agreed, the comptroller's position should have been advertised. Hawkins said that has never been the case with any of the courthouse offices.

Frustrated, she said the council can do what it wants, but she told Byerly she would be earning $24,104 in 2014 based on what the council told her in July and it would be unfair to reduce that amount. It was also noted that Byerly, during her time as assessor, had achieved Level 2 assessor certification. However, because she hasn't kept up with the required continued education, the certification isn't current.

Brewer, trying to find a compromise, proposed a graduated pay scale for the position: base, $22,495; Level 1 certification, $23,579; and Level 2 certification, $24,104.

Following more discussion, including conceding that the council previously indicated the position would be paid the same as Parke is receiving in 2013, Breeding made a motion, which Councilman Joey Robinson seconded, to leave the pay rate as is.

"My reason being, we didn't discuss it (changing the pay) at the other meeting," Robinson said.

He added that he didn't want to upset the other employees but said they would feel differently if they had been told they would make a certain salary only to have it lowered.

Breeding's motion passed 4-3 (Breeding, Brewer, Robinson and Jim Taylor for; Bartels, Doug McLain and Wilson against).

Having made a mistake in July doesn't constitute making another mistake now, Bartels said. The position should have a base salary of $22,495 with an increase based upon the various levels of certification.

Brewer reiterated his proposal for a graduated pay scale, beginning at $22,495 and increasing to $24,104 with Level 2 certification. This time, the council agreed.

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