A plan to give several high-level employees pay increases passed through Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen's Executive Committee Wednesday, but not without dissension in the ranks.
Lauzen wants 5 percent raises for six employees. The combined cost of the raises would add slightly less than $40,000 to each year's county budget for as long as the employees remain with the county. The full county board is scheduled to vote on five of the raises next week. Lauzen will bring the sixth raise to a vote next month along with raises for as many as three more of his employees.
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Several board members say the raises are sending the wrong message to taxpayers, even if the county can afford the costs.
"I just think this is government; we have to remember that once these raises are given they are there the next year, the year after that and the year after that," said board member Barb Wojnicki, also chairman of the Kane County Republican Party. "I just, in my mind and my heart, don't think now is the time to be giving $5,000 and $7,000 raises. People are just stunned that we're even considering this."
Earlier in the process, several county board members criticized Lauzen for not disclosing the full cost of all the raises he has in mind and their place in the overall budget. At least for the first six raises, Lauzen provided numbers showing the raises will add $10,000 to the salary burdens in the budget. The low number results from savings realized from the loss of two employees who were in management roles.
Rather than replace them with two new employees with the exact same duties, Lauzen parceled out some of the work to existing employees. One of those employees received a 28 percent raise to go along with the expanded role.
Lauzen also brought on a new employee to oversee the Mill Creek subdivision at a $60,000 pay increase over the previous manager. The salary difference reflects an additional role as Lauzen's construction expert.
Board member Melisa Taylor agreed with Wojnicki, saying the 5 percent raises on top of the 2 percent raises the same employees received last year are "ludicrous" in the current economy.
Likewise, Cristina Castro said Lauzen's raises make her uncomfortable with the county's long-term finances as eight of the county's 11 union contracts are still in negotiations.
"We should have done this as part of a budgeting process," Castro said. "We don't know what's going to happen. I'm afraid to keep playing Russian roulette. What happens if we don't have this money? Why can't we just give them the 2 percent (raise) as we've done in the previous cycle?"
Lauzen has justified the raises all along as necessary to retain and attract high-quality employees. Several of the employees targeted for the 5 percent raises will still earn less than the average salary for comparable positions in neighboring counties, according to Lauzen's own salary study.
"All spending, including these raises, will be limited within the property tax freeze," Lauzen said. "There is not one penny more that your property tax payers are being asked to bring forward."
The vast majority of the committee agreed the raises are needed to reward the employees for quality service in sending the plan on to a full board vote.