FORT WAYNE — Most county employees and elected officials will get 2 percent raises next year.
The Allen County Council agreed Thursday to the across-the-board increases, but excluded itself.
Council members are paid $15,475 annually, and two of the seven council members choose to get health insurance under a benefits package.
The last raise for county employees was 3 percent in 2009. Next year’s raise was possible because the county saved more than $3 million by switching health insurance providers, garnering significant discounts, said Chris Cloud, executive assistant for the commissioners.
In 2011, the county paid $11,697,274 in health insurance costs for about 1,200 employees and their 1,900 dependents who are on the health insurance plan, Cloud said.
“It was a savings for the county, but not for employees,” County Commissioner Nelson Peters said.
The commissioners presented the council with an analysis of four county employees with different levels of seniority and pay, showing that employees’ wages were falling behind the Consumer Price Index, the number used to determine cost-of-living adjustments.
“Currently, our employees are not keeping pace with the costs they are facing,” Cloud said. The study showed that employees are lagging by 4.5 percent to 10 percent.
Commissioner Therese Brown said she would have liked to have seen a 3 percent raise for employees.
Several employees will face salary cuts, including the next coroner. Republican Craig Nelson, a dentist and forensic odontologist who currently serves as chief deputy coroner, is one of the candidates.
The council rescinded an earlier vote agreeing to consider Nelson “licensed to practice as a physician in Indiana,” meaning if elected, he will earn $15,273 less than his predecessors.
They agreed to pay whoever is elected in November, Nelson or Democrat Norman Knuth, the lower rate of $30,548, not $45,821 that would be paid to a qualifying physician.
Darren Vogt, R-3rd, had asked the council to revisit the issue after hearing from Gina Burgess, a Democratic candidate seeking the at-large County Council seat. She questioned whether the previous vote from the all-Republican council to pay Nelson the higher wages was bipartisan in nature.
While Nelson said he did not consider himself “licensed to practice as a physician,” he pointed out that the late Phillip O’Shaughnessy was, like himself, a dentist who specialized in forensic investigations and was paid at the higher salary level.
He had hoped to get paid at the same level, but the council’s decision will not affect his race for coroner, he said.
Two positions in Superior Court in the drug and alcohol division will face salary cuts after council members agreed the salaries must stay within the guidelines of county policy.
While judges are legally required to set the salaries of court employees, the bigger concern was that, according to comparable salary data, those employees were getting more than the job was worth, Vogt said.
The judges needed to justify those levels of pay, he said.
“The judges could sue us, but hopefully they will choose to stay consistent in the process we have,” Vogt said. “The risk potential is that we would have to go to court and argue our case.”
Under the council’s recommendations, a drug court officer’s $53,833 annual salary would be reduced to $45,645 annually over the next two years and a case manager earning $51,387 a year will see reductions over a one year period, bring the salary down to $47,926.
Earlier in the meeting, after considerable discussion, the council agreed to allocate about $117,000 to Allen Superior Court to cover shortfalls for interpreters, psychological evaluations and to appoint legal representation for abused and neglected children and, sometimes, their parents.
After questions from the council on how the court could streamline expenses or perhaps raise user fees, Judge David Avery reminded them that the services are mandated at state and federal levels and that user fees are also out of their hands.
“The legislature controls those fees. We are not in a position to do that,” Avery said.
The expenses are largely out of the court’s control, and there are too many variables to accurately predict what the court will face from year to year, said Jerry Noble, court executive.
Costs for translators and psychological evaluations have risen dramatically in the last two years, and Superior Court is still working with $250,000 less than it had last year, Noble said.
Allen Circuit Court issued a statement Thursday saying it had cut the 2013 operating budget by $99,940, saving the county just over 6 percent.
The savings came from a reduction in workforce through attrition and reorganization, not employee layoffs, according to the statement.
Sheriff Ken Fries’ request for $410,000 to pay for inmate medical costs through the rest of the year was granted, with council members agreeing to use money from the rainy day fund. The withdrawal leaves a balance of about $11.8 million in the rainy day fund.