County to increase employee benefits

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The Socorro County Commission unanimously approved publishing the county’s revised personnel policy during its regular meeting Tuesday night, as well as had a serious discussion about employee raises.

County manager Delilah Walsh said some suggestions from their employee satisfaction survey were added to the personnel policy. Also, vacation benefits were improved to be more competitive with surrounding counties and with other employers here. She said staff also closed some loopholes and updated the personnel policy to bring it into compliance with federal employment laws that have changed since 2005, when the personnel policy was made.

District 5 Commissioner Juan Gutierrez asked if the county has to publish the whole thing; it’s over 100 pages.

County attorney Adren Nance said publishing the title and general summary of the policy will suffice. That will give everyone an opportunity to be aware of it and come in to the clerk’s office to review the whole thing if they like.

Walsh said the commission should wait longer than 30 days before taking action on the policy because they need people to read it beforehand and make comments. She said that should be reasonable, considering this is the first revision in seven years.

During Walsh’s manager’s report later in the meeting, she told the commission the county needs a compensation plan. The first step to building that would be a compensation study, which would look at job duties and job descriptions in the whole county government; examine market rates of pay for similar positions in surrounding areas and make a recommendation.

Walsh said if the county goes “the whole route” — including developing a policy, compensation plans and salary scales, as well as redoing job descriptions and the classification system — the cost could run $30,000 to $40,000. However, she estimated a compensation study with recommendations alone, with Walsh taking the next year to do the rest of the work and create a whole plan, would run $12,000 to $18,000.

“It is a big investment,” Walsh said. “But what this does is we would put every single employee exactly where they need to be for pay.”

Walsh said she already knows the county can’t afford to compensate employees at 100 percent of what the recommendation will be, but they can get everyone to 90 percent and phase that into fiscal years as money becomes available. She said most county employees now make about 87 to 90 percent of what they should make — but when it comes to the detention center and the senior center, the percentage is much lower.

Walsh said she wants to do the compensation study in order to get a good compensation plan in place, ensure fairness throughout the entire county and develop a good system that can evolve with the county’s needs.

“When you think about it, more than half of our budget is wages,” Walsh said. “And so we’re committing half of our $14 million total budget for the year — half of it’s wages and we’re kind of willy-nilly everywhere.

“If it’s half our budget, we should know what we’re doing — down to the penny. And we should be doing it right — down to the penny.”

Walsh said although the county would have to pay for the study out of its reserves because it doesn’t have capital outlay money for the purpose, the county needs to have something in place by the time they start budget planning in March. She said she wasn’t asking for anything at this time because she is still checking prices, but she wanted the commission to know about it now.

“We need to get there. We need to be there,” Walsh said. “This is our last big policy change that we need to implement.”

Gutierrez said when he looked over the pay scale recently, he noticed a lot of discrepancies. He noted some employees who have been working for the county three years make more than others who have been working there 13 years. He said this can cause problems when people find out what others make.

“I think we need something where we can back our word on why certain persons are getting more than others,” Gutierrez said.

Walsh agreed, saying that especially comes into play when different certification requirements are involved.

Walsh said the big problem is departments give raises on a per-budget basis, not according to a good classification system that makes sense to everyone. Raises are generally granted according to whether a department can cut its budget somewhere else, not according to the merits of the employees.

“If you can cut your budget, you can give your staff a raise,” Walsh said. “If you can’t cut your budget, you’re out of luck. That’s how we’ve been dealing with it and trying to keep everybody.”

She said, for example, the solid waste department never does well with its budget because landfill fees go up every year.

“So it’s impossible for them to get new trucks and raises and things like that if we keep operating the way we are today,” Walsh said.