Bonuses to county employees up 21 percent in 2011

In lieu of raises, county officials give out 21 percent more in supplemental pay.

As budget cuts have caused Montgomery County officials to freeze salaries, more elected officials last year turned to awarding bonuses to their employees, a Dayton Daily News analysis of payroll data shows.

In 2011, county elected officials awarded one-time payments totaling nearly $2.7 million to about 3,200 employees for longevity, performance or other reasons. That’s compared to $2.2 million given to 200 fewer employees in 2010.

The increase in bonuses was primarily in six agencies: the auditor’s office, coroner’s office, county commissioners’ office, juvenile court, prosecutor’s office and sheriff’s office.

The county’s general operating budget was cut by about $3 million and 184 jobs were shed during the same time period. County commissioners cut the budget by another $9.2 million for 2012.

None of the government officials interviewed for this article agreed that the payments were bonuses, giving varying reasons.

For the purposes of this article, the Dayton Daily News is calling any one-time payment that supplements hourly wages a bonus.

Most officials said their employees’ pay has been frozen for years. Lump-sum payments are a one-time expense unlike raises, which can exponentially increase over the years.

“First, a LSP (Longevity Supplemental Payment) is not a bonus,” Greg Flannagan, a spokesman for Prosecutor Mat Heck, wrote in an email. “Longevity pay is not paid across the board — the LSP amounts are based on individual employees’ merit and performance. ... These are one-time, lump-sum payments to reward superior employee performance in the face of the inability to give any raises due to budgetary cuts.”

Heck awarded an average bonus of about $4,300 per employee in 2011, the largest in the county, compared to an average of $2,700 per employee the previous year. Staff in the prosecutor’s office haven’t gotten a raise for five years, and are doing the jobs of other employees who were bought out as part of budget cuts, Flannagan said. In most cases, employees received bonuses for between 8 percent to 10 percent of their earnings. The smallest bonus was $1,000 and the highest $14,000, records show.

Covering costs

The bonuses allow county officials to reward employees and help them pay for increased costs of living, including paying more for health insurance, county officials said.

Commissioners didn’t budget for any office to award increased bonuses, former county administrator Deborah Feldman said in an interview before she left her county post earlier this month. But she didn’t take issue with officials who were able to fund an increase.

“These people work extremely hard, and I think these officeholders did what they thought was right for their individual sets of employees,” Feldman said.

Some of the increase in bonuses — namely $217,000 in additional bonuses split among 300 employees in the sheriff’s office and $80,000 in additional bonuses for 1,500 employees who work under county commissioners — were part of union-negotiated contracts.

“Because we had such an enormous budget cut, we couldn’t give raises,” said Kim Copher, fiscal officer for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.

Given the alternative of raises with layoffs, unions instead agreed to $500 and $600 lump-sum payments, she said. Those payments do not fully cover the increase in the amount sheriff’s employees now pay for their monthly health insurance premiums, she said.

Bonuses preserved

Montgomery County Juvenile Court, which saw one of the largest budget cuts in the county last year, still was able to preserve employee bonuses. At the end of last year, Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judge Nick Kuntz awarded $1,000 to every full-time employee, and $700 to each part-time employee, said court administrator Jim Cole. That added up to about $393,000, or in total about $27,000 more than the year before spread among about 30 fewer employees.

The court hasn’t actually awarded raises since 2009, Cole said. Due to county budget struggles, the juvenile court last year closed a floor of its youth detention center and eliminated roughly 50 positions through buyouts and retirements. That left extra money in the court’s budget at the end of the year, Cole said.

“We’ve lost over 80-some staff (since 2010), so they’re doing in some cases someone else’s work,” Cole said, adding that the court still returned about $1.2 million to the county’s general fund.

The juvenile court’s budget in 2012 was cut $2.6 million. Cole said he will monitor his office’s finances as the year goes on to see if bonuses are possible this year.

Base pay stable

Auditor Karl Keith awarded staff $189,000 in bonuses last year, $35,000 more than in 2010. He said his office has cut 18 positions since 2007.

“I used this approach to fairly compensate staff for the additional workload they assumed with the elimination of almost one-fifth of our workforce,” Keith wrote in an email. “This is a fiscally responsible approach since it does not add to the staff’s base pay which may cause a strain on future budgets.”

Greene County employees received fewer bonuses in 2011 than the year before — $461,000 compared to about $667,000 in 2010. Still, Greene County officials gave rationales similar to those of their Montgomery County counterparts for choosing to award bonuses at all.

“There were several years when we were unable to give raises at all,” county Administrator Howard Poston said. “With the economy being what it is, the cost of living has increased. It’s been a burden on our employees. ... We’re trying to do what we can to recognize their loyalty and good work for the county.”

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2494 or andrew.tobias@coxinc.com.

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