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Low salaries, more work, fewer resources blamed for low county employee morale

Richard Eberlein began working for Carroll County government as an electrician in 2008. He figured he would get raises every year, which would help him justify taking a $15,000 pay cut by leaving his job at a hospital. Then the economy worsened and he, like many county employees, was left with flat or only slightly increased pay.

Now, Eberlein said, he is among a number of county employees who are just working for a paycheck.

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"Morale is horrible," said the 62-year-old. "Everyone comes to work because they have to, not because they want to."

Every year the directors of the various county departments, bureaus and agencies come before the Carroll County Board of Commissioners to ask for funding for the next fiscal year. This year, several directors told the board of commissioners that morale is low among their staff.

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The county employees' complaints revolve around two ideas - they are not being paid enough and staffing cuts have forced them to take on a lot more work. As a result, morale is low.

Low salaries or few raises

The concerns most often voiced by county employees are over salary, said Kimberly Frock, administrator of the Carroll County Bureau of Human Resources.

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners approved including $1.3 million in the proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget for 3 percent raises for county employees.

The board also provided a 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment and a 1.5 percent salary raise in FY14. The last time employees received a cost of living adjustment, which accounts for annual inflation, before 2013 was in 2008. During that time period, Frock said employees' costs of living went up but they were not getting increases from the county.

Eberlein, who works in the county's Bureau of Facilities, said the majority of county employees complain about their low salaries.

"Everything else in the world is going up in price, but our salaries have been stagnant," Eberlein said. "Last year, we got a 3 percent raise but our insurance premiums went up. It didn't eat all of the raise but enough of it."

In light of decreasing county revenue, the board approved using $1.4 million to give one-time bonuses to full-time employees in FY13. Employees who had worked for the county for less than a year received $750 and those who had worked for the county for more than a year received $1,200 or 3 percent of their salary, whichever was greater.

Eberlein said the county could make it up to its employees by giving larger raises - between 8 and 10 percent. Also, he said, they could offer merit-based salary increases.

"I thought, for sure, in six years that I'd be making more than I am now. Especially at my age and being in this trade for 40-some years," Eberlein said.

Frock said that county employees have expressed concern that their salaries have not been increased to match the additional workload and responsibilities they are taking on. The employees are doing more work because the county staff has been cut since the downturn in the economy began in 2007.

To combat the problem, Frock asked the board of commissioners to consider hiring a personnel analyst in FY15. The analyst would, among other things, perform an annual job reclassification review. The process, which has not been done since 2008, looks at all employment position descriptions and evaluates salaries in and out of county government to ensure equity, she said.

Approximately 290 employment classifications would be reviewed to ensure county employees are being paid according to the work they are doing. When positions are reclassified to a higher grade, Frock said the employees in those positions would receive a salary increase.

The board did not include hiring a personnel analyst in its proposed FY15 budget.

Phil Hager, director of the county's Department of Land Use, Planning and Development, said it is difficult to retain skilled employees because they are being lured away from county government for higher-paying positions elsewhere.

"We are blessed with an incredible, high-quality workforce and it's vitally important that we invest in that workforce and that we keep them here," Hager said. "One of the negative things about an improving economy is that, sometimes, your best people will get cherry-picked away by increased wages. I'm concerned about that for the future."

Employees are burnt out

In early April, directors of the various county departments met with the board of commissioners to present their budget requests. Director after director told the board that their staff needed help. Staffing cuts over the past few years have taken their toll, and employees are being overworked.

"I also feel compelled to bring to your attention the fact that while morale amongst this tremendous group of staff remains high, there is an undercurrent of frustration that suggests the symptoms of burnout and over-assignment fatigue can be expected in the near-term future," Hager told the board in early April. "Even at current funding levels, there are many problems."

Hager told the board that he will ask the commissioners to hire more employees in the future to alleviate the stress being put on the county's current land use, planning and development staff. His staff, Hager said, is being told to perform at levels well in excess of what the board should expect of its employees in a workweek.

"I am concerned, however, at the length of time they can be expected to work at these levels," Hager said in April. "When you ask too much of too many people for too long, negative repercussions should be expected."

Tom Rio, administrator for the Carroll County Department of Public Works, leads the largest department in county government. With more than 250 employees, public works performs a variety of tasks ranging from snow removal and road paving to building inspections and utility operations.

Rio also told the board in early April that his staff is being overworked and needs help.

"The employees are certainly giving 100 percent and with more frequency they are frustrated and worn down," Rio told the board in early April.

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