Ocean City Today

County reverses course on pay for low earners

Worcester continues to lose employees to higher-paying jobs elsewhere on shore
By Brian Gilliland | Feb 08, 2018

(Feb. 9, 2018) The Worcester Commissioners reversed course from a failed 3-3 vote during its Jan. 16 meeting to a 5-2 vote in favor of increasing the pay for some of the county’s lowest-paid employees to help the county retain workers and help fill long-vacant positions.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said the county had lost another 10-12 employees since the Jan. 16 meeting, when it was reported that overall county employment has shrunk by 20 percent in the last 18 months.

Taking the savings from those unfilled positions, Human Resources Director Stacey Norton suggested increasing the pay on the lower side of the county pay scale during a work session following the Jan. 16 meeting. Her plan would take a phased approach, she said, starting at the bottom and working toward the highest-paid county employees.

Norton said, and Budget Manager Kathy Whited confirmed, the money from leftover salaries could be used without costing Worcester any additional funds.

The first vote on Norton’s plan split 3-3, after Commissioner Vice President Ted Elder left the work session for his job as a county bus contractor. Commissioner President Diana Purnell and commissioners Bud Church and Joe Mitrecic were in favor of the plan, with commissioners Jim Bunting, Chip Bertino and Merrill Lockfaw against.

Elder brought the issue back up during Tuesday’s meeting as the first order of business.

After some debate, the plan was approved, this time by a 5-2 vote, with Elder in favor and Lockfaw joining the affirmative votes. Commissioners Bunting and Bertino remain opposed.

Bertino said he was not opposed to the plan, but he did object to taking the step of increasing county employee pay outside of budget season. Bunting said the county doesn’t have a budget yet, so the commissioners don’t have a solid understanding of its position as budget talks begin.

“We may need that $291,000,” he said, referring to the cost to increase the salaries of some workers, drawn from the savings from open positions.

The plan focused on four main concerns: compliance with the federal minimum wage, focus on the positions with the highest turnover, focus on the positions with the lowest pay and set a minimum rate for supervisor positions.

In total, 39 county positions would be affected by this part of the salary plan. If implemented in January, the changes would have gone into effect immediately, giving some of the county’s lowest-paid workers an immediate boost. But as a result of the later vote, County Attorney Maureen Howarth said the approved plan would begin with the county’s next pay cycle.

During a previous meeting, County Administrator Harold Higgins said salaries are county staff’s top concern as it enters budget season.

County staff have begun to submit their budget proposals to administration for review, and the commissioners will review those proposals during work sessions scheduled for May this year.

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