Budgets include raises for some workers

Shenandoah and Warren counties plan to raise government workers’ pay in an effort to make up for a long, dry spell.

Rather than give an across-the-board, cost-of-living-adjustment, county officials propose merit pay increases based on individual performance. But the counties still struggle to keep salaries in line with the increasing cost of living.

Both counties raised salaries through cost-of-living adjustments in most fiscal periods of the past decade. Shenandoah County implemented cost-of-living-adjustments of 3 percent in fiscal years 2006-2008 and a 2-percent increase in fiscal 2009. The county resumed 2-percent increases in fiscal 2014 and the current period. Warren County implemented cost-of-living adjustments of 4.55 percent in 2006, 5.57 percent in 2007, 4.55 percent in 2008, 5.06 in 2009 and 2.5 percent in 2013 and 2014.

But the practice stopped as the economy sank. Shenandoah County workers received no salary adjustment for four years, from fiscal 2010 through 2013. Warren County employees did not receive adjustments in fiscal 2010-2012.

In their proposed, fiscal 2016 budgets, Shenandoah and Warren counties include a 2.5-percent, merit pay increase for government workers. Shenandoah County would do so without any increases in the tax rates. Warren County would need to increase its tax rate by one cent on the current levy to raise the revenue needed for the adjustment.

Under Warren County’s proposal, employees hired prior to July 1, 2012 would be eligible for a 2.5-percent pay increase effective July 1 this year. Employees hired prior to July 1, 2005 would be eligible for the same increase effective Jan. 1, 2016.

Warren County last gave merit pay increases in fiscal 2014, effective that January.

In recommending a salary increase for Warren County workers — a move supported by the Board of Supervisors — County Administrator Douglas Stanley pointed out that over the years the government has tried to keep up with the cost of living. Stanley used the cost-of-living adjustments implemented by the Social Security Administration as a guide.

Stanley explained Friday that he used the COLA as a benchmark for showing the history of the county’s salary increases.

“The Social Security, cost-of-living increases is certainly one of the factors I looked at,” Stanley said. “That’s one of the data points we looked at and I wanted to compare it for against what we’ve been able to do for our employees in that same, 10-year period.”

Since fiscal 2006, Warren County has given its government workers cost of living adjustments totaling 24.73 percent. By comparison, Shenandoah County has given adjustments totaling 15 percent since 2006.

Cost-of-living adjustments implemented by the federal agency totaled 22.3 percent since January 2006. But in some years, the county gave increases at below the federal adjustment. A history of cost-of-living adjustments shows the agency provided increases in benefits of 4.1 percent in 2006, 3.3 percent in 2007, 2.3 percent in 2008, 5.8 percent in 2009, no increase in 2010 and 2011, 3.6 percent in 2012, 1.7 percent in 2013 and 1.5 percent in 2014.

Stanley also takes into consideration other data such as the consumer price index when looking at salaries. Stanley pointed out that the county staff have received a total salary increase of 5 percent since 2009. By comparison, the consumer price index has increased by 9.6 percent since 2009, Stanley noted. Since fiscal 2009, Shenandoah County workers have seen COLA increases of 6 percent.

In January 2013, after several years without increases, the county implemented an updated compensation plan to bring positions into grades of a new salary scale at a consultant’s recommendation.

In fiscal 2013, the state mandated that local government employees contribute 5 percent of their salaries to the Virginia Retirement System. In turn, the General Assembly then required the local government to cover the employees’ contribution through a salary increase. The 5-percent raise also required that the government increase salary spending by 1.5 percent to cover the additional taxes related to the adjustment. Essentially this increased government spending, but ended in a wash for employees. Shenandoah County implemented the entire 6.5 percent in fiscal 2013. Warren County opted to implement the required increase in 1-percent increments beginning in fiscal 2013.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com