By Matt Getts
ALBION — Noble County’s police department got an early Christmas present Monday from the County Council: a 9 percent pay increase for deputies in 2018.
Merit deputies will receive approximately $4,000 more annually, according to the 2018 salary ordinance passed 6-1 by the County Council.
“It was long overdue,” council President Mike Toles said at Monday’s meeting. “It’s still not at the mean compared to other agencies.”
Noble County Sheriff Doug Harp expressed his appreciation.
“Our folks are thrilled with the raise,” Harp said. “I am thrilled. It’s a nice raise for them.”
The 2018 salary ordinance provides raises for some employees, based on a matrix created by an outside consulting firm the county utilized. Other employees won’t see a raise at all, depending on the matrix, which measures experience, certifications and other factors compared to the private sector.
County officials, citing the various funds salaries are taken from and unknown overtime totals, were unable to come up with a comparison figure between what was budgeted to be spent on county salaries in 2017 with what its projected total for 2018 would be.
County Councilwoman Denise Lemmon was the lone dissenting voice on the salary ordinance. Lemmon said her opposition related to a discussion between Noble County commissioners Dave Abbott and Dave Dolezal and the council regarding health insurance.
Dolezal told the council he thought it was time to do away with the county’s practice of providing longevity pay bonuses for employees who had been with the county five years or more, capping out at an increase of $2,000 annually for employees with 20 years of service.
Dolezal said the $211,000 expenditure projected for 2018 could more wisely be spent defraying some of the county’s health insurance costs. Dolezal said the pay matrix system was bringing employees up to their private-sector counterparts, and providing longevity pay was, in effect, rewarding the employees twice.
“I think it is a fiscally irresponsible way to spend … tax dollars,” Dolezal told the County Council. He said the practice discriminates against employees with fewer than five years of experience while rewarding those who traditionally are on the high end of the pay scale anyway.
That raised the ire of Harp, who pointed out that his officers still weren’t making what officers at other departments in the area are currently earning, which is adversely affecting efforts to hire new officers in Noble County.
“There is still a disparity,” Harp said. “I can’t get people to work. We’re struggling to find people. We’re still behind the eight ball. We have been for years.”
Councilman Jerry Jansen said because of the matrix system, longevity pay was nearing the end of its validity.
“It’s probably about time,” Jansen said. “To see it changed today? I don’t see it happening.”
Lemmon voted against the salary ordinance because she wanted to see the longevity issue resolved.
“I think longevity has to be addressed,” Lemmon said. “We’ve had time to discuss it.”
Toles asked that the longevity issue be put on the council’s December agenda, but stressed it would not take effect until 2019 at the earliest.
County coordinator Jackie Knafel said doing away with longevity pay could mean a salary loss — year over year — for some employees.
Knafel reported that county employees could expect to spend an additional 7 percent on vision insurance in 2018 and an extra 5.25 percent on dental insurance premiums. Health insurance premiums, she reported, were expected to rise somewhere between 7 percent to 12 percent.
In other business, the council appointed Diane Gross as its representative to the Ligonier Public Library’s board. Gaff is currently the vice president of the board.