Most Allen County government employees will get a small raise next year. One, however, may have just taken a huge pay cut before even getting a job.
County Council on Thursday decided that Craig L. Nelson, a dentist and Republican candidate for coroner next month, does not meet the legal description of “physician” – a distinction that, if elected, would cause him to be paid about $30,500 instead of the $45,800 offered coroners who do meet that standard.
Gina Burgess, a paralegal and Democratic County Council candidate, had questioned a previous Council vote indicating Nelson would be paid as a physician under state law.
Nelson, who has worked in the coroner's office since 2006 and served as deputy since 2006, is considered the favorite in the race against Democrat Norman Knuth. Nelson questioned Council's decision, but said it would not affect his desire to succeed Republican Jon Brandenberger in the job.
“It's disappointing that they're treating me differently,” Nelson said, noting that the man Brandenberger succeeded in 2001, Dr. Phillip O'Shaughnessy, was also a dentist – but received a physician's pay.
But Nelson's potential bad news was the exception Thursday, not the rule, as Council agreed to give an across-the-board 2 percent raise next year to most employees and – excluding themselves -- elected officials.
The raise will cost about $1 million and was made possible by a savings of about $3 million realized by the County Commissioners' decision to place all employees under a single health-care provider: Lutheran Health Network.
In reality, however, the decision will increase employees' take-home pay by only 1 percent. Council had previously required most employees to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to their retirement funds and had approved a 2 percent bonus to offset part of that expense. Thursday's vote restores the remaining 1 percent and allows for the additional 1 percent raise.
Some Council members had suggested a one-time bonus instead of a raise, noting that a raise would create long-term obligations that could become a problem if tax revenues dwindle or the expected health-care savings don't materialize.
Commissioner Nelson Peters and other Council members, however, noted that a bonus would do nothing to close the 20 percent wage gap between many city and county employees – a gap that could make retention and recruitment difficult and result in larger increases later.
“I've been a Scrooge as much as anybody,” Councilman Paul Moss said. But I'm concerned about unions. (Not having them) is why we are grossly more efficient (than the city).”