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Dawson County is considering these handbook changes for new merit, longevity pay policies
Dawson County courthouse

Dawson County employees were again on outgoing District 3 Commissioner Tim Satterfield’s mind when he spoke to his Board of Commissioners colleagues last Thursday.

This story continues below.

“Once you lose people that’ve been here a while, it affects the whole county with operations of the county,” Satterfield said during the BOC’s Dec. 1 work session. 

On Dec. 15, the board will vote on handbook changes to allow for structured merit and longevity increase opportunities for Dawson County employees that, if approved, would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023. 

Under the new policies, employees would be eligible for merit and/or longevity increases upon reaching their first anniversary working with Dawson County. As opposed to a cost-of-living adjustment, this type of pay increase would be staggered since employees each have different hire dates. 

The board’s Dec. 1 discussion follows their November approval of $1 million for merit increases in the FY2023 budget and September approval of a 5% COLA to address the impact of inflation on workers.

COLA increase
BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond, left, listens as District 3 Commissioner Tim Satterfield, right, speaks in support of cost-of-living salary increases for county staff at the board’s Sept. 1 work session. - photo by Julia Hansen

These conversations also come at a time when fewer people are applying for local government jobs across the United States.

Satterfield clarified that voting on the handbook policy would not affect what the board has already budgeted for merit increases.

He also championed county employees for being able to help save money in their departments and put funds back into the overall fund balance.

Commissioners discussed having two different increase ranges based on evaluations that would be conducted around the time of employees’ hire anniversaries. 

Like Satterfield, BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond also supported the idea of congruent merit and longevity increases.

“A true merit system is based on when you were hired,” Thurmond said. “Plus it's a benefit to all those people who have to do the evaluations.”

The board chairman elaborated on the importance of longtime employees and how their presence can translate into better services for county citizens, pointing in particular to the 3% longevity raise 20-plus-year county employees could get under the new rules. 

“You’re going to spend more than three percent on that recruitment phase, I can tell you right now. Plus, you’re not going to have any of that experience you just lost,” Thurmond said. “In a way, you’d be making money right here by keeping somebody.”

Satterfield likewise pointed to month-over-month increases in local tax collections and the fact that the county’s only paying about 84% of what’s allocated to payroll now.

That’s compared to having employees cover vacant shifts, which he said can lead to spending more on overtime.

“A lot of this stuff, if you look at it on the large scale [and] if you could get these critical positions filled…with things like this right here,” said Satterfield, “you're actually going to save some money in the long run.”

District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines expressed a more reserved response. 

“Today, the funding looks good, and we have a lot of good revenue coming in. I think a lot of it is our sales tax revenue is artificially inflated due to inflationary increases that’s short lived,” said Gaines, “so we’ve just got to keep in mind [that] this is a long-term commitment.”

Thurmond admitted that especially considering times like the 2008 recession, the “economy itself” would dictate implementation of these policies. 

“It might say it in the handbook, but that can be changed as well when you're in a bad situation,” Thurmond said. “So you kind of, for lack of a better term, you play with the hand you’re dealt with at that particular time.”

Before Dec. 15, the commissioners will wait on additional figures that show how their suggested longevity increases far when looking at other county governments. 

It was also suggested to keep in language about either an increase or paid time off if an increase is not available, or perhaps to base the raises on annual revenue. 

“We’ll have to budget every year and adjust the schedule,” Gaines added.