Whether 16.2 percent pay raises given last month to six employees in the Milton Township assessor's office represent a higher workload or a sweetheart deal depends on who you ask.
Assessor Bob Earl, who is stepping down at the end of the year because he wasn't re-elected, insists the raises largely were the result of his decision to increase the number of hours employees work each week.
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But township Supervisor O. Chris Heidorn is calling Earl's actions "a parting shot at the (township) board or a last-ditch gift to favored employees by a lame duck, or both.
"In any case, these kinds of huge raises are neither advisable nor sustainable," Heidorn wrote in a letter to township trustees.
Heidorn said officials have determined the raises will cost more than $56,000. And because township trustees didn't budget for that amount, the assessor's office is expected to run out of money for payroll in early February -- more than a month before Milton Township's fiscal year ends on March 31, 2014.
Assessor-elect Chris LeVan reacted to that prediction by saying the raises will put the assessor's office at an operational disadvantage.
"Furthermore, spending public money on exorbitant raises with no justification is a slap in the face to every taxpayer in Milton Township," LeVan said. "It's simply unacceptable.
Earl says his critics are playing politics and mischaracterizing what happened.
According to Earl, all the full- and part-time employees in the assessor's office received a cost-of-living raise of 1.7 percent.
The six other employees got an additional pay bump because their hours were increased from 35 hours a week to 40 hours a week. He said the 35-hour workweek dated to before he took office in 2006.
"All of my people are now on a 40-hour workweek," Earl said. "It's not favoritism to the chosen few or whatever."
Earl said part of the reason the employees need to work more hours is to have enough time to assess every parcel in the township before his term ends on Dec. 31. LeVan will be sworn in the next day.
"There is a need for me to get the increased workload done in a shorter period of time, so I can turn the office over to the new guy with the task done for the year," Earl said.
Still, Heidorn said the pay raises are unsustainable and "probably dooming most of (the assessor's office) staff to termination."
"The new assessor is going to have to slash and burn personnel just so he can keep the office going," he said, adding that he plans to ask Earl to reduce the raises "to a reasonable level."
Township trustees don't have the authority to repeal the raises. Earl's the only one who can do it because he was elected to oversee the operation of the assessor's office.
And Earl says he has no intention of repealing the raises. He also disagrees with Heidorn's math.
"Let's not forget that the fiscal year starts April 1," said Earl, adding there's still more than 10 months remaining in the current fiscal year. "So pulling the fire alarm right now on something is kind of silly.
"I know how to manage my budget," he said. "I won't have any problems managing this budget. I'm not worried."
Earl said there wouldn't be any issues if township trustees hadn't reduced his budget this year by about $60,000. Heidorn contends the amount was a budget increase sought by Earl that the board denied.
Nevertheless, Earl said, the township board has the power to revise the budget to account for the higher salaries. He said there's ample cash in the township's reserves.
But Heidorn said, "We don't like that idea at all based on what we think are ridiculous actions by the current assessor."
In the meantime, Earl says the entire situation is an example "of the type of interference from the board that I've been dealing with for a long time."
"I'm not surprised," he said. "They dream up stuff all the time and don't talk to me."
Raises: Township supervisor says assessor took 'ridiculous actions'