County eyes worker pay hike as priority

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 2/26/19

The Bradley County Commission discussed some of its priorities in the coming months, touching on employee wages and infrastructure during Monday night’s work session.

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County eyes worker pay hike as priority

Posted

The Bradley County Commission discussed some of its priorities in the coming months, touching on employee wages and infrastructure during Monday night’s work session.

Commissioner Erica Davis referred to a previous meeting when there was discussion about making employee salaries a priority, and asked for clarification. She said, in her opinion they need to first address "lower paid, entry-level positions" because if there are only pay increases across the board they will continue to see employee turnover and the loss of training dollars when lower paid employees leave for better-paying jobs elsewhere. Davis added commissioners should then look for a "way to give everyone else a cost of living increase."

Davis said her hope is to work toward a plan because saying employee pay is a priority to “too vague.”

Commissioner Charlotte Peak agreed with Davis, noting when the Bradley County Commission puts money in a line item, the department head or elected officials "divvy that out.” Therefore the intent of giving the lowest-paid employees more of a pay increase may not happen, she said.

Peak said it is not fair to pay a secretary in one office $70,000 for a "cushy job" when some department heads don't earn that much.

"We want to find where the balance is," she said, adding they must make lower salaries competitive.

"I think we need to clarify when we say we want to make salaries a top priority” and determine a salary for each, Peak added.

Vice Chairman Jeff Yarber said he doesn't think anyone assumes that if a county employee has a higher salary that they have a "cushier job." He added county commissioners have approved pay increases across the board for the past few years and he believes there should be a starting point and a sliding scale for increases.

Yarber said he believes they should give lower earning employees "the bulk of the money,” and agreed the commissioners need to do things "the right way" to be competitive in terms of retaining employees. He added the city and county mayor salaries and county sheriff and city police chief salaries are not compatible either.

Yarber noted the Finance Committee is working on a plan to make employee wages a priority.

Commissioner Howard Thompson said every department has an elected official and how those are managed is none of the County Commission's business other than being concerned employees are not being paid enough. He added the commissioners can't micromanage the departments.

Commissioner Milan Blake said when the Finance Committee passed the motion to make employee wages a priority and brought it to the full county commission, it was asking the mayor to make salaries a priority in the 2019-20 budget. However, the county but first must address statutory obligations and contracts.

Blake, who is chairman of the Finance Committee, said he appreciates the conversation about priorities.

"We are at the very, very beginning of the conversation of how we're going to do it," he said, adding county officials know there is a retention issue and maybe this will help with that, as well.

Commissioner Bill Winters said there is a lot of wisdom in this conversation and there are major needs coming from various departments, like education, and those needs that have to be met. The commission must address those and then work on salaries, he said.

Yarber added a previous commissioner would often remind them the county only has two constitutional obligations: the jail and education.

Davis thanked her fellow commissioners for the opportunity to begin the conversation, noting she wants to begin to clarify the issue.

"I don't think we're trying to micromanage by talking about this," she said.

Epperson said he is glad to see the county commission talking about top priorities, noting his top priority is the county’s infrastructure. Reading from a prepared statement, Epperson said infrastructure “such as roads, utilities, water, sewer, and broadband are vital to any county such as ours. Preparing for future generations of citizens will require all the above and should be considered a top priority of both local governments.”

Epperson continued that the city of Cleveland “should be appreciated for their efforts of joining this Commission’s unanimous decision in asking the state for an interchange at Harrison Pike and I-75.” He said he will be traveling to Nashville in March to meet with state representatives and he will reiterate the County Commission’s desire to expedite for additional lanes, north and south, from Exit 20 to Exit 32.

“I will thank our state leaders for all their hard work and let them know we support their efforts for all the road projects that will begin in the near future,” Epperson said.

Epperson added he is “proud to be a part of this commission” and appreciates the phone calls and feedback from citizens “that are taking notice of the commitments of this Commission. Your calls of support have been coming in at the right times and again, they are appreciated.”

“You will see a lot happen within this four-year term of commissioners,” he added. “Their commitment with promoting infrastructure such as broadband will continue.”

Epperson also noted the Ad Hoc Committee for Drinking Water and Waste Water Treatment Services “will continue to work hard and hopefully bring their recommendations forward soon. We are looking at all options.”

He said it is his hope “that we open dialog of communication with the city of Cleveland. Infrastructure can’t be successful if attempted by one local government in isolation from the other. We need to explore intergovernmental cooperation in addressing growth management issues and have increasingly coordinated approach to multi-jurisdictional/regional planning. The citizens of Bradley County deserve nothing less.”

Epperson then announced the ad hoc committee will meet at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, March 15, in the Louie Alford Commission Conference Room in the Courthouse.

Commission Chairman Johnny Mull thanked the commissioners for sharing their priorities.

“In two weeks we’ll talk more about commission priorities,” he said.

The Bradley County Commission’s next scheduled meeting is a voting session at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 4, in the County Commission Courtroom at the Courthouse.

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