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Amid transfer station flap, solid waste votes to give raises

Aug 19, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

In an effort to retain their employees and compete with the county roads department, solid waste leaders have voted to implement pay increases for their employees.

"Our pay scale is low," Fremont County Solid Waste Disposal District superintendent Andy Frey told board members. "We are struggling to keep staff here."

The eventual 4-2 approval on Aug. 13 came after an initial tie vote by the board for the increase that affects all employees and costs the district an extra $164,000 annually.

Board member Dave Hines expressed concern about public perception of the matter, imagining how the pay increase will be received amid the controversy surrounding the new schedules at trash transfer stations.

"They may deserve it, but we're going into crunch time. It may be in the budget, but it's going to go like the transfer stations," Hines said. "It's going to hit the paper."

After continuing discussions on the matter following the first failed vote, Hines decided to change his stance on the matter. He warned the pay increases will not stay competitive when other employers, especially in the energy industry, begin hiring.

"If there's an opportunity across the fence, they're going to take it," Hines said. "Like I said, down the road a little bit in the next (boom-bust) cycle -- I hope I'm proven wrong -- they'll jump."

The pay adjustment, as solid waste officials call it, brings non-commercial driver's license staff and office personnel to at least $15.50 an hour, or $32,240 annually.

Commercial driver's license operators will make at least $36,0000 annually, while employees making more than the new minimum amounts will get a 3.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment.

CDL operators were making $28,200 annually to start, compared to county road and bridge department employees starting at $36,000 to $38,000, according to a memo provided to solid waste board members.

In the memo, Frey stated that four to six solid waste employees apply for each opening at the county roads department "as a means of improving their quality of life."

Frey also noted that in the eight months he has worked with the district, "there has been a high level of employee turn-around due to competition with the oil/gas fields, construction, and other governmental entities."

He said he has replaced seven employees during his tenure.

"This employee turnaround impacts the operating budget negatively with a loss in efficiency training new staff, additional advertisement/marketing and unplanned for overtime from other staff," Frey stated.

He told board members the district has 35 full-time and four part-time employees, compared to the typical 45 full-time staff members.

"The current staff has been asked to take on more workloads at a sustained pay scale," according to the memo.

"We're asking a lot more of our people. I don't think it's fair," Frey told board members.

The constant replacement means a loss of training and knowledge that impacts the district financially, Frey said.

"The salary adjustment I'm proposing is in the budget," he added.

The proposal gained divided support from the board. "Andy, I agree with what we need to do here," board chairman Mike Adams said.

Board member Richard Rodgers made a motion for the pay increase, while Rick Klaproth seconded the action.

Four years ago the district raised its salaries to compete with the county, "and we just held it there," Rodgers said.

Hines questioned how the district's wages compare to other landfills in the state.

"I don't know specifically what the other landfills are paying," Frey replied. "The relevance I don't think is there. The competition is in-county."

Board member Steve Baumann questioned the loss from training and turnover compared to the proposed pay increase.

"If turnover doesn't cost as much money as paying for training as what we're proposing in our salaries, then it doesn't make any sense," Baumann said.

"I'd like to see what it costs us for training and figure out if it's a reasonable cost or unreasonable cost."

Frey said the cost is potentially substantial to the district. The district spent $2 million on its balers, "and irresponsible people working on these balers can cost us that in a day," he said.

Baumann acknowledged the district hires young employees who receive training and later leave for other jobs.

"A lower age group is positive for us from a health-care standpoint," he said.

"There's no good reason to keep a whole lot of guys that are older. It pollutes the population from a health-care standpoint."

Adams agreed the district is facing turnover issues.

"It's getting harder and harder to find good people," he said.

While supporting the pay increase, Adams suggested raises for employees who deserve them. "I'd love to see this board go to merit raises," he said.

Solid waste district attorney Rick Sollars said a merit system could take six months to a year to impose because of time needed to create a baseline evaluation for employees.

"To my knowledge, we've never done that baseline evaluation," Sollars said.

Before the first vote, Hines suggested a committee study the issue. Frey opposed the idea.

"Almost all things that have gone to committee that I have been involved with have died," Frey said. "I would ask you not to go that route."

While Adams, Klaproth and Rodgers supported the pay increase, Baumann, Hines and board vice chairman Jerry Crews voted against the proposal.

"It just is so quick," Crews said about approving the raises. "I just thought it was a precipitous decision."

Hines questioned whether all employees deserve a higher wage. "Andy knows these guys one by one," he said. "There might be five or six of them in there I question the raise for. ... I'd have to look at their performance and say OK."

Adams asked for another chance on the plan.

"I'm going to ask the board to reconsider," he said. "I really think these guys deserve it."

Before Hines decided to change his vote, Frey also tried to convince the board for the pay increase.

"We need to adjust the baseline to an adequate level, to an appropriate level," he said.

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