The York County Council is on track to provide county employees with some sort of pay increase.
But how much to give, and whether to deliver that increase in a one-time incentive payment or in raises that will automatically carry over to the county’s bottom line next year, were questions posed during the council’s first budget workshop in Rock Hill on Wednesday night.
York County staff have recommended a 3 percent merit raise for employees who either meet or exceed expectations in their annual reviews. No employee meeting the criteria would receive less than a $1,000 increase.
Employees’ last pay raise was in October 2008.
Councilman David Bowman presented his own recommendation, a 5.25 percent merit increase.
For the council, Bowman scrawled out in marker how he calculated that percentage. It’s about half of the increase employees would have received if the county had given raises over the past few years.
Bowman said the council still has time to decide what type of increase to give and how much, but he threw his support behind his proposal.
“I don’t know if we can do it or not, but if we can do it without raising taxes, that’s what I’d like to shoot for,” he said.
Councilmen Eric Winstead and Bruce Henderson expressed concerns that calling the raise a “bonus” – or a one-time incentive payment – would free the county of the same obligation next year.
“If the economy took another dip” and the county committed to a raise, that amount would carry over to the next year’s budget, adding automatically to employees’ base salaries, Winstead said.
Henderson echoed the concern but added that “with all probability (the pay increase) will reoccur the next year, and the next year,” he said.
In last year’s budget, the council was “extra conservative,” he said.
Only Councilman Curwood Chappell objected to the pay increases, a change from last year’s budget meetings, when a majority opposed pay raises that county staff recommended.
“Does a raise really help?” Chappell asked. With raises, the costs of insurance and taxes go up, he argued.
Chappell also said it’s not “Christian” or fair for him to give raises to county employees when there are taxpayers who are still suffering in the economy.
County Manager Jim Baker answered that whether employees receive raises or not, inflation will still impact employees and the cost of milk and gasoline will still go up.
“They’re going to be in a lot worse shape if we don’t give them a raise,” he said.
In last year’s debates over whether to give employee raises, Baker, council members who supported raises, and the sheriff said that withholding pay increases could jeopardize the county’s ability to attract and retain talented employees.
Baker reiterated that point Wednesday.
He also asked the council to consider reinstating an annual picnic for volunteer firefighters, which they opted not to support last year, or think of another way to thank them for their service.
Stable tax rates
While some county fire districts have requested permission to increase their tax rates slightly, the county overall won’t see a tax increase.
Chappell, at the end of the meeting, credited the council with cooperation from county management for not raising taxes.
Baker has told the council that no tax increase will be necessary this year, but next year they will almost certainly need an increase in order to meet the county’s debt obligations while continuing to provide services as the county’s population grows.