MADISON — By the end of its meeting Tuesday, the Madison County Board of Commissioners might have sensed a theme — county employees are underpaid.
Perhaps that is no better evidenced than in the sheriff’s department, where a statewide and national shortage of law enforcement officers is making it difficult to attract new deputies and jailers, as well as retain good workers.
Sheriff Todd Volk said he had lost two good correctional officers who went to the private sector in the Norfolk area in the last month. They were seeking more of a 9-to-5 job with no weekend work, he said.
“To be honest with you, if either one of them wanted to come back, I’d take them back in a heartbeat because they are good people,” Volk said.
The merit commission indicates that Madison County salaries are behind 17 other comparable counties and Madison County is one of two that doesn’t pay overtime.
Many of the counties either pay overtime or limit it to 100 hours a year. Instead of overtime, Madison County awards compensatory hours at a rate of 1½ hours for each hour of overtime worked. Compensatory time is similar to vacation hours.
The merit commission was established by statute in the early 1980s to assist counties with such matters as pay scale and disciplinary actions.
Volk said he would like to try to catch up the sheriff’s department salaries over two years. Buffalo County, for example, recently implemented a 12% increase in payroll for its department, he said.
Volk also requested implementing overtime pay for up to 100 hours. For some deputies, the chance to earn overtime makes a big difference.
Then next year, Volk said he would like to implement a 5% increase.
“I was going to ask for another patrol deputy, but just because of doing this, I’m going to pull that back for another year,” he said. “And in time, I would like to maybe get another corrections officer or two, but we’ll deal with that probably next year, too. I would rather keep the people I got now.”
Volk said he has a couple of deputies who have been offered other positions who are good workers. More pay would help to retain them.
In the end, the commissioners voted 3-0 to allow a 6% increase in salaries for the sheriff’s department this coming fiscal year, which would begin Oct. 1.
The commissioners did not take action on the overtime question. It might be enacted later this year if the budget allows it, they said.
Commissioners also are facing similar concerns from other departments.
Representatives of the district court and county attorney’s office said many of the longtime employees are undervalued. They are earning wages either just a little above or about the same value as starting employees, they said.
Commissioner Eric Stinson said it isn’t right for new employees to come in and earn about the same amount as current employees.
Part of the problem as described is the county has had to bump up salaries to hire new workers. Then the county pays employees on years of service, and many employees max out within four or five years. Then when all they get are cost-of-living increases, they said, new employees keep getting hired at considerably higher wages that increase quicker than the cost-of-living increase.
IN A RELATED MATTER, the county board met with representatives of Zelle, a Lincoln human resources firm that has assisted other counties with hiring and employment issues.
Among other things, Zelle could assist with updating the employee handbook and determining how holiday pay should be treated for employees who work 10-hour shifts instead of eight-hour shifts but still complete 40-hour work weeks.
The county does not have a human resources officer but routinely has questions come up that the clerk’s office, which handles payroll, has to decide.
And one of the major issues it would help to address and possibly implement would be to move to a pay scale that would be based more on merit rather than longevity.
The commissioners did not take action on whether to hire Zelle but may do so later.
Troy Uhlir, county board chairman, said there seems to be some sentiment to move from longevity to merit or incentive pay to help boost longer-term employees’ pay.
“We may need some proposal help (from an outside firm) on this so we get it right,” Uhlir said.