BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Across-the-board pay raises for county employees have not been a part of the Greene County budget in six or seven years, and that fact has made the issue a hot-button topic in recent days as the county budgeting process moves toward an end.
On Friday, the County Commission held its annual Budget Workshop to examine and discuss a proposed county budget in which, for yet another year, there are no across-the-board raises for county employees.
The commission held the meeting at the Greene County Health Department. No official action was taken, but there was much discussion, a lot of it spirited and strongly felt.
Although no across-the-board pay raises would be provided in the proposed 2012-2013 county budget, some county department heads have been able to find money within their budgets in 2011-2012 or 2012-2013 to provide their employees with raises.
One such measure prompted some heated arguments at the budget workshop on Friday, when Commissioner Nathan Holt questioned Mayor Alan Broyles about rumors that the Solid Waste Department had cut employee hours but was providing the same pay as before.
Mayor Broyles confirmed this report, explaining that the use of compactors at many of the county convenience centers where citizens deposit trash for pickup have reduced the number of hours that employees are needed, when compared with the hours needed when front-end loaders were used.
He also said that the department has not raised the employees' pay.
"Fewer hours but the same pay -- how does that work?" Commissioner Ted Hensley questioned. "I'd like to get in on that."
Broyles said the employees were making less than other county employees who, he said, are performing the same job.
Solid Waste Director Hubert Metcalf did not comment during the discussion other than to confirm that most of the employees, whose hours were cut from 40 per week to 32, were making "a little over $10" an hour.
Broyles said that other county employees are averaging $11 to $13 per hour.
"That's going in the wrong direction to try to resolve our issues," Hensley said in reference to the county's deficits.
"When people out there in the public who are working and paying these dollars in -- when they see that kind of thing, it makes them furious," Hensley said.
Commissioner Anthony Sauceman, a Solid Waste Department employee, spoke for the first time during the meeting to object to this statement.
"I'm telling you that they're not making more money. They're working fewer hours," he said. "So you would want to cut their hours and cut their pay, too?"
He challenged commissioners to visit the department and experience the employees' work for themselves.
"If you're cutting their hours ... and they're making the same amount of money overall, that's a 25 percent pay raise -- 25 percent," Commissioner Nathan Holt said. "If you're going to cut their hours, cut their pay."
As commissioners began talking over one another, some in angry tones, Broyles questioned whether those opposed to the move would suggest cutting the pay of county employees in other departments that are making more money for doing the same job.
"How do you address that?" Broyles asked.
Commissioner Robin Quillen later came back to the issue after another commissioner had diverted the conversation by saying the debate was becoming "personal" and unproductive.
"I can only ask that things be done on the up-and-up as far as when things happen in the departments or whatever," Quillen said.
"It's not just with small things, but I really ask that we as a commission be informed.
"We are ultimately the ones that are going to have to make the decision, and I like to be prepared. I like to have my homework done before I make a decision.
"I think we're going to have to have some changes -- I do."