Cape County Commission tables proposals for department restructuring

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Proposals by two Cape Girardeau County departments could save taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars, but some officeholders worry that raises attached to the consolidations could come at a price to employee morale.

The Cape Girardeau County Commission on Monday tabled consolidation proposals from the county auditor and recorder of deeds, with commissioners agreeing to revisit the plans in two weeks following a closer look at the financials.

Auditor Pete Frazier and Recorder of Deeds Scott R. Clark are seeking to reduce the size of their departments' small workforces, giving more responsibilities to the remaining employees, with commensurate raises.

Frazier proposes promoting the office's deputy, Beth Biri, to the recently vacated chief deputy position. Biri's post would remain vacant, at least through the end of the year, to determine whether the change is workable and if it could be permanently implemented.

Under Frazier's proposal, Biri would receive a $5,000 raise with another $2,000 in benefits. The deputy auditor currently earns about $21,000 a year. Her new annual salary would be $26,810.

The two-person department could realize about $15,000 in savings for the rest of the year, and, if permanently enacted, the consolidation plan could net the office a nearly $25,000 surplus, Frazier estimates.

Clark wants to realign duties in his three-member department following the retirement earlier this year of a longtime deputy. The savings realized through not filling the deputy position could approach $25,000, after raises of around $4,000 for the remaining staff members. The two remaining deputies would earn about $34,000 a year under the plan, and the chief deputy's salary would rise to $41,000.

While supportive of the reorganization plans, Commissioner Jay Purcell had questions about the size of the raises, particularly in the recorder of deeds' office.

"We want to make sure we're not compensating too highly," he said.

Purcell, a vocal proponent for county government consolidation, recently won approval for his plan to reorganize the county parks department, a move that the commissioner says will save the county more than $40,000 while boosting salaries for staff members assuming greater responsibilities.

Cape Girardeau County Clerk Kara Clark Summers raised similar concerns, fearing the salary increases, particularly in the recorder's office, would put pay in office "out of line" with members of her staff and in other departments -- employees who, Summers said, also have taken on more responsibilities during tough budget times.

"I can't cut staffing in my office. I can't do it," Summers said, turning to Clark. "I'm glad that you can, but does that justify giving something a substantial raise because somebody left?"

Outpacing others

The problem, Clark Summers and others say, is that the raises for the register of deeds' deputy positions would outpace salaries of similar employees in other departments.

Clark countered that his chief deputy has 44 years of experience, and his other deputies have 26 and seven years of service in the office.

"They're not just paper pushers," he said during the meeting. "I think they equally should be compensated."

Clark Summers said Monday afternoon that in her four years in office, she has seen morale problems when some county employees receive raises and others are left out.

"I have seen the hurt in other department people who are working just as hard say, 'Why didn't we get a raise?' That's how hard feelings start happening," she said.

Purcell, who said he has justified the raises issued to the parks employees, contends pay bumps shouldn't be issued just because employees are asked to do more. He pointed to the private sector, where consolidations demand remaining employees do more simply to save their jobs.

"Again, I think it's a dangerous precedent," he said of the requested raise figures.

Monday afternoon, Clark said he did not want to comment, except to say he welcomes the commission's examination of his proposal.

mkittle@semissourian.com

388-3627

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