LOVINGTON — Many Lea County employees will have extra cash to spend this Christmas and going forward.
Newly approved pay increases for safety-related agencies and departments will show up in Dec. 10 pay checks, with the new wage rates having become effective Nov. 21.
Rebecca Long, chairwoman of the Lea County Commission, said the increases that for some departments exceed 46 percent, resulted from understaffing and competition with a healthy oil and gas industry.
For instance, an understaffed team of emergency dispatchers at the Lea County Communications Authority has been working two 12-hour shifts per day to cover the needs of 911 callers, a situation Long hopes to rectify with more dispatchers and three eight-hour shifts.
Meanwhile, maintenance of the county’s more than 1,200 miles of roads has also suffered from lack of staffing.
“We have been understaffed at the road department for a few years now. We can’t even function they way we’re supposed to at our current staffing level,” Long said. “In order to compete with the oilfield, we have to raise our wages or we’re never going to be able to provide the services that your taxpayer money is for. We have to have more employees and this is the best way to get that.”
County Human Resources Director Craig Bova introduced two resolutions for commissioners’ approval at the last regular commission meeting, first to increase minimum starting pay, then to set higher salary ranges for existing employees.
“The last two years have been hard. It’s been hard to get qualified people to even apply to the county,” Bova said. “There are a lot of factors in that. What we’re proposing here is an increase in the pay rate for people coming on board for these departments.”
Specifically, Lea County commissioners approved hikes in salaries for personnel in the detention, road, environment, DWI/compliance and airport departments, as well as the sheriff’s office and emergency dispatchers, numbering more than half the county’s employees.
“Some of these departments have had vacancies for quite a while,” Bova said. “There’s lots of overtime and these people have worked a lot of extra hours. Hopefully, we’ll get some new employees and cut down on that overtime.”
County Manager Mike Gallagher said total cost of the changes will be about $4.8 million, a little more than two thirds of estimates proposed in initial discussions in October.
Commissioner Jonathan Sena applauded the holistic approach to the salary issue.
“I think that’s so good because we’re talking about incentivizing new folks and we’re taking care of the ones we have,” Sena said. “That can help with morale and show the value we place in our employees. They work so hard.”
Long agreed, pointing out it would have been unfair for the county to hire a new employee at the same rate as a 20-year veteran employee. So, existing employees also get a boost.
A summary chart indicates the departmental increases as follows:
• Detention — $4.2 million to $6.1 million, up 44.6 percent.
• DWI — $662,000 to $797,000, up 20.2 percent.
• Environmental — $573,000 to $791,000, up 38.1 percent.
• Road — $1.8 million to $2.7 million, up 46.8 percent.
• Sheriff — $6.0 million to $6.2 million, up 3.3 percent.
• Dispatch — $1.2 million to $1.7 million, up 39 percent.
• Airport — $213,000 to $311,000, up 46.3 percent.
Some individual positions saw increases of more than 60 percent in minimum salary range, but most are closer to a quarter higher than previous pay. The overall increase is 26.1 percent.
For instance, a non-certified detention officer’s starting pay went from $15 per hour to $20 per hour minimum, as did a starting environmental officer and airport firefighter. Meanwhile, in the road department, a CDL certified equipment operator went from $17.08 per hour to $26 per hour while a mechanic went from $17.97 to $30.42 minimum.
“It was not on a whim that we did this. We did our due diligence. We’ve been talking about this for over two years, now,” Long said. “We did our research and this is what the market bears for these safety positions.”
The chairwoman pointed out other non-safety related positions in the county received increases a couple of years ago, but would be evaluated again in the future.
The safety-related jobs, however, needed immediate attention, Long pointed out, because of their nature in caring for county residents.
“These safety positions aren’t a 9-to-5 job. It’s different shifts, different hours. It’s not like we’re going to pay somebody a whole lot of money to work just 9-to-5. I appreciate there are folks willing to be in these positions and take care of our community like they do,” Long concluded.
Safety worker starting minimum salaries
Deputy (uncertified) $22.00 per hour Deputy (certified) $28.00, Corporal $30.28, Investigator $31.50, Sergeant $35.43, Captain $41.45, Chief Deputy $44.83, Undersheriff $50.43
Detention Officer (uncertified) $20.00, Detention Officer (certified) $26.00, Sergeant $29.25, Lieutenant $32.90, Captain $35.58, Chief of Security $38.49
Equipment Operator (non CDL) $22.00, Equipment Operator (CDL) $26.00, Welder $28.12, Mechanic $30.42, Assistant Road Supervisor $30.42, Road Supervisor $34.21
Environmental Officer $20.00, Environmental Supervisor $31.50,
Probation/Compliance Coord. $20.00, Case Coordinator $20.55, Court Compliance Officer $26.00, Preventionist $26.00, Counselor $28.00, Lead Compliance Officer $28.00, Compliance Supervisor $31.50, Office Manager $32.90, Clinic Manager $34.21
Dispatcher I $22.00, Dispatcher II $28.00, Dispatcher III $31.50, Dispatcher Supervisor $35.43
Coordinator $35.43, Quality Assurance Coordinator $35.43, Training Administrator $35.43,
Firefighter I/II $20.00, Firefighter EMT $26.00, Airport Technician $24.00, Airport Operations Supervisor $29.25