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Minimum wage law leads Carroll County commissioners to settle on plan for county salary raises

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners had included funding for a 3% salary adjustment for county employees in the fiscal year 2020 budget that passed on May 28, but the board was forced to adjust that plan.

A new state law complicated any specific plans for county employee salaries, according to a county official.

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“There is the topic of minimum wage that is going to further complicate our discussion,” Kimberly Frock, director of human resources, told the commissioners at their Thursday meeting.

In March, state lawmakers overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto to pass a minimum wage increase that requires employers with 15 or more employees to increase their minimum wage to $15 per hour by Jan. 1, 2025 — smaller employers will have until July 1, 2026.

Carroll County will have some difficulty raising wages in order to meet that requirement, Frock said, in part because the county got behind on cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, and salary step increases, or increments, during the Great Recession that began with the financial crisis of 2008.

COLAs shift the pay scales themselves, Frock said, increasing the minimum and maximum salaries but keeping employees in their relative place in the scale, whereas increments move employees through the pay scale, changing their position relative to the top and bottom of the scale.

Frock then outlined three plan options for the commissioners, the first of which would rely entirely on a 3% COLA annually through 2025.

“We would meet the minimum wage requirements,” she said. “Unfortunately there would be no increment, so they would not move through the scale. Actually, they get closer to the base and the base comes up to meet them.”

That means a person could be hired in 2020 and be earning the same amount, for the same job, as someone hired in 2025, Frock said at the meeting.

The second option would tackle that pay scale compression somewhat by going with an annual 2% COLA and a 1% increment, so that employees would advance at least a little up the pay scales in accordance with their time with the county, according to Frock.

“The issue with this option is we will not meet the required $15 minimum wage by FY25,” she said. “We wouldn’t hit it until FY28.”

The commissioners would need to find an additional $48,000 to ensure all employees could we paid a minimum of $15 an hour by FY25, according to Frock.

A third option would split the changes between a 1.5% COLA and a 1.5% increment, but as Frock noted in the meeting, the county would then not meet the $14 hour minimum wage required in FY24 on the way to a $15 minimum in FY25.

“HR is recommending Option 1 so we are in compliance with the minimum wage law as it hits,” Frock said.

But the commissioners argued in favor of preserving increments if possible.

“The problem with Option One is in out years people who have been working here for five years see someone just hired for the same amount of money,” Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said, adding that in the grand scheme of things $48,000 did not seem like that much to give employees an increment as well as COLA.

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“Those steps are very much appreciated,” said Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1. “I think it’s important to make sure they realize those steps, because it’s just not fair for someone to be working here four to five years and an entry level employee is making the same thing.”

The board voted unanimously to approve Option Two.

Frock said in an interview, however, that the second option would not prevent some employees with longer times of service from making the same as new hires in FY25, but that by preserving the increments those longer-serving employees would eventually move up the pay scale, alleviating the wage compression around the new minimum wage.

Frock also said that the only year for which the increases are now certain is FY20 — spending for FY21 through FY25 is planned, but not yet adopted, and so more or less money available in those years could change the plan.

“If we have more money in the budget I would obviously go in with a different set of requests,” Frock said in an interview.

The board also took up the issue of employee bonuses for FY20, which begins July 1. According to Frock, the commissioners had made about $340,000 available for this purpose.

The board settled on a tiered plan for paying the bonuses.

“Those with higher years of service would get a higher bonus,” Frock said.

The bonuses will be paid between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.

“I think most folks would like a little extra during that time period,” Wantz said.

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