The Brown County Council has approved raises to the base pay for most county employees that could cost up to $153,858 in 2017 and future years.

Almost $130,000 of that is a 3 percent across-the-board base pay increase.

It was discussed as a “raise” to cover cost of living; however, anyone hired into one of the affected jobs in the future will also benefit from it, because increases to base pay are permanent.

Employees also receive longevity pay, an extra $100 for each year in county government; it is not carried over to a brand-new employee hired into the job.

In 2017, most full-time county employees will make about $31,000, not counting longevity pay.

Last year, the council raised base pay across the board by 2 percent. Prior to that, the council raised it by 3 percent for 2014 and by percent for both 2012 and 2013. There was no increase for 2015.

Since 2003, there have been five years when the council did not raise base pay for any positions, but it was increased by 2 to 6 percent in other years.

The cumulative effect is a 39-percent increase in base pay for county employees from 2002 to 2017.

Since 2011, base pay will have increased 19 percent.

Council member Darren Byrd questioned the 3 per-cent increase because he said it’s more than what workers in the private sector are seeing.

Council member David Critser pointed out the five years that there was no increase. “We’re still playing catch-up,” county commissioner Diana Biddle agreed.

“Well the economy’s still playing catch-up,” Byrd responded. “I don’t like the idea of government growth outpacing private sector growth, because private sector growth has to be taxed to pay for government growth.”

As a comparison point, Byrd noted that the cost-of-living increase for Social Security this year will be 0.2 percent.

“I’m making a dollar more an hour now than I did 16 years ago,” Byrd said. “There are a lot of people in the same situation.”

Council member Jerry Pittman said he agreed with Byrd, but he felt the county was still behind the curve in what it is paying its employees.

In addition to the base pay increase, the council also budgeted almost $24,000 to possibly pay more to people in seven jobs.

Whether any or all of that money will actually be spent in 2017 won’t be decided until October.

It would go to changes in the pay grades of those seven positions. To make that happen, council would have to determine that the current pay grade is not appropriate to the actual job being done.

Auditor Beth Mulry has requested one higher pay step for each of her five employees, due to a change in how her office operates. The total extra pay would be $6,500 among them.

In the past, each deputy in the auditor’s office had a specific job, and the absence of a single employee could hinder the office from meeting requests from the public in a timely manner.

Mulry, who previously served as county clerk, said she is cross-training her employees to organize the auditor’s office like the clerk’s office.

When the clerk’s office was reorganized, each employee was stepped up by two pay grades, Mulry said.

The other two employees whose bosses have asked for changes in their job descriptions and pay grade are Melissa Stinson, who administers human resources, and Tom Reoch, who manages the county’s Geographic Information System map.

Stinson works as the administrative assistant to the county commissioners and as the employee benefits administrator, Biddle said. The commissioners have requested a pay grade increase that would give her an additional $5,418, taking her base pay to about $36,000.

Her job was created in 2015 after the county eliminated the $60,000-a-year county administrator job.

County Surveyor Dave Harden’s request for Reoch is not just related to additional job duties.

Reoch maintains the GIS map of the entire county, showing elevation, property lines, floodways, the locations of cemeteries and other pieces of information.

He also combines it with other data, such as the U.S. Census, to show data stories such as demographic makeup, likely locations of future mudslides and flooding and other topics.

The position he occupies is that of a basic plat mapper. If Reoch were doing the job he is paid for, he would only be keeping map panels in order and making sure addresses and property lines were accurate, he said.

The council budgeted up to $12,026 for a pay grade change for Reoch. If the full amount is approved, the base pay would be just over $46,000 in 2017.

Harden and Reoch told the council that the job description is outdated for what the county needs now.

Reoch showed two basic maps he produced showing the income and population density in the county. Those are some of the simplest work he has done, and if the county outsourced it, it would have paid about $700 to a private company for just those two maps, he said.

Council members are to meet with and observe Stinson and Reoch, as well as Mulry’s staff, to more fully understand what they do before making a decision on their pay.

How's the budget look?

Unlike recent years, the county will not have to dip into reserves such as the rainy-day fund to meet regular operating expenses for 2017, or make massive cuts.

Brown County Auditor Beth Mulry projected the county would have about $145,000 more in revenue than it budgeted for for 2017.

However, staying within the budget likely would come with a tax increase.

The council is expected to discuss an income tax increase Monday, Sept. 19, from 2.3955 percent to 2.5234 percent.

Every year, the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance allows counties to increase their property tax levy based on statewide income estimates. However, Brown County’s property tax levy is frozen, and any growth in revenue not related to the creation of new government units or debt has to come from income tax.

Brown County has not increased income tax to meet the allowed rate since 2013. Mulry said a change to the 2016 income tax rate — which would have taken it to 2.4843 percent — would have generated about $300,000.

By Indiana law, the county cannot lower the rate once it has raised it.

The council will have a first reading of the ordinance Sept. 19 and a second reading and final approval Monday, Oct. 17.

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Ben Kibbey is a Brown County transplant from the cornfields of central Ohio. He covers county government, business, outdoors, sports and general news.