Nearly all Morgan County employees will receive a 3.5% pay raise Oct. 1 if the proposed budget presented by Commission Chairman Ray Long is approved in its current form.
At Tuesday’s Morgan County Commission meeting, Long said the county needs to beef up its pay to be competitive in retaining and recruiting employees.
“We’re going to have fierce competition to keep our workers,” Long said. “Our benefits are top of the line. They’re as good as anyone’s around. But people will have the opportunity to leave $12 an hour jobs for $18 to $20 an hour jobs when Mazda Toyota and suppliers move in and begin hiring.
"I want to focus on bringing the lower-paid employees up a notch to help them where they can survive to make a living.”
Officials with Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA, an auto plant being built in Huntsville-annexed Limestone County, said they expect to employ a peak of 2,500 construction workers this fall. Production is scheduled to start in 2021, and the company has said it will employ 4,000.
Long’s proposal gives employees a 1.5% merit raise and 2% cost-of-living adjustment in fiscal 2020. In fiscal 2019, employees received a 1.5% merit raise and full-timers received a one-time $500 check while part-timers pocketed a one-time $250 check.
Long said the county has about $3 million in reserves and expects that reserve to grow. His proposed general fund budget lists $25,266,150 in expenses and $25,282,805 in revenue.
Long’s total budget including road and bridge and capital improvement funds totals $50.4 million in revenue and $49.8 million in expenditures with a carryover of $652,000.
Sheriff Ron Puckett has proposed not filling eight jail positions and using the extra money to bolster salaries during fiscal 2020.
“Our goal is to keep our employees,” Puckett said. “We invest in our employees. Better pay can attract and retain more employees. Law enforcement as a whole suffers in a good economy. In a bad economy, our application pool is 8 feet deep.”
Long said a beginning jailer makes $11.65 an hour.
“After my proposed budget, that will increase to $13.16 with the 2% COLA if it passes,” Long said. “That’s a significant jump in a year. Jailers have a big responsibility. They guard our inmates.”
Long said Morgan County will look into having Tier 2 retirement programs advanced to the Tier 1 level. He also proposed not hiking employee insurance premiums.
District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark said he anticipates the county will lose employees to auto suppliers and plants along the river in the next 18 months.
“Younger workers are interested in the money more than the benefits,” he said. “They’ll leave us for the higher-paying jobs. If it pays a $100 more a week, it’s attractive. That’s $100 more a week than they had. Anybody who can pass a job skills test will be getting jobs at Mazda Toyota or one of the suppliers.”
Long said a strong economy “is a good problem to have.”
“Anytime you are losing employees, it shows the economy is good,” he said. “Our job is to try to make the economy better, too. We want to offer what we can to compete. At the end of the day, we’re limited in what we can offer because we’re a government. We have no way of raising our income.”