The Butler County Juvenile Justice Center at 280 N. Fair Ave. in Hamilton, seen in 2013. NICK DAGGY / STAFF

Why Butler County is boosting wages for some departments in its new budget

Officials in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts and county coroner’s office told commissioners that they struggled to retain quality employees who were leaving for better-paying jobs or even different departments within in the county.

The wage adjustments will cost the county about $210,000 in increased payroll for 2019 in the three departments and resulted from a salary study commissioned by the county. Officials said it’s an important step in finding and retaining talent. The head of at least one department said the turnover has affected how well it can perform its basic duties.

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“They (court employees) are saying, ‘I can go over here and I can make more money and I don’t cry when I come home,’” Butler County Administrative Judge Barbara Schneider Carter told the commissioners.

“It’s a high-stress environment. I think we have some very dedicated people who believe in what we do. If they can be paid fairly, if they can be paid comparably to other positions in the county, I think we can retain them.”

Juvenile Court Administrator Rob Clevenger told the commissioners, based on a wage study, that some of his department’s employees are also underpaid.

“Our argument is we’ve been patient, we understand the circumstances but we’re not talking about our entire court,” he said. “All we’re talking about is two areas where the pay survey shows exactly what we know it to be, that is there is no parity for what we’re paying as compared to others within county government.”

The biggest non-performance-based wage adjustment next year will be in the Juvenile Court. The 60 employees in the clerk’s office and juvenile detention center will receive a total increase of $135,374. The county will keep a clerk position vacant and reallocate other funds to pay for that increase.

“It was in the spirit of full disclosure and our ongoing positive working relationship with county administration and the county commissioners that we approached county administration with our plan,” Clevenger told the Journal-News. “While the survey supported the need to address the pay parity issue within these two departments, we also appreciated the many demands on the county general fund.”

Wage adjustments in the Domestic Relations Court will be new allocations, in addition to performance pay. Court Administrator Annette Lolli told the Journal-News that 22 full-time court staff will collectively receive $43,200 in wage adjustments and 17 employees will split an additional $16,922 in performance pay.

Lolli said turnover in court staff has been disruptive. The court had eight vacancies at the time of budget hearings, and Lolli is conducting interviews to fill four open positions.

Since June 2015, the Domestic Relations Court has lost 22 people due to resignations and two retirements and hired 24 replacement staffers. That’s been plenty of activity for a department with two judges, four magistrates, Lolli, three supervisors and 16 support staff.

“That’s what I’ve been up against,” Lolli said. “Our problem is we can’t effectively and efficiently perform the functions of the court that we’re statutorily required to and serve the families of Butler County.”

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Butler County Coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix also asked the commissioners for salary bumps for a few of her staff — a one-time 5 percent hike for three people, totaling total of $15,195.

County Administrator Charlie Young said he and Finance Director Tawana Keels visited the other office holders in late 2016 and offered to have wage consultant Clemans Nelson do market studies to determine how their pay stacked up to other governments and the private sector.

“What the commissioners had committed to was what these studies said needed to be done, they’d do,” Young said.

Lolli independently studied wage data from other courts, and the coroner’s office asked former Human Resources director Jim Davis to compare salaries from similar departments across Ohio.

Commissioner Don Dixon pushed for the initial study and after two years, with Commissioner Cindy Carpenter’s swing vote — former commissioner Chuck Furmon was against conducting the study in the first place and enacting its results in the aftermath — got pay scales and other portions of the study implemented. The study has been routinely updated since to keep up with market changes.

Commissioner Don Dixon said the county promised its employees and other office holders they would monitor the market regularly to ensure they are paying a fair and competitive wage and the independent wage study is critical to that effort.

“It’s not just budget director sitting down there and looking at it or the commissioners,” Dixon said. “There’s an analysis done by an independent company, Clemans Nelson, that will tell us, show us and they’ll lay the solution in front of us in a couple different ways.”