Editorial: Commissioners need to provide data before considering raise for employees

For those of you fortunate enough to have a job in this economy turned upside-down by the new coronavirus (COVID-19), how many of you expect a pay raise this year? We suspect many of you would be content with keeping your job as we ride out possibly the worst economy of our lifetimes.

Millions are unemployed across the country. Many workers have seen their pay drastically cut, their hours significantly reduced or have been placed on furlough.

In April, the unemployment rate for the Dalton Area, which is Murray and Whitfield counties, skyrocketed to 20.6% -- an all-time high. The area's unemployment rate in March was 5.2%. Whitfield County had the highest unemployment rate of any county in Georgia at 20.6%, followed by Murray County at 20.1%

Businesses are tightening their belts. On a national, state and local level, governments expect dire budget shortfalls

While we brace for the worst, members of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners are considering giving their employees a 3% pay raise.

At their meeting Monday night, commissioners voted to postpone a vote on the pay raise until the commissioners' July 13 meeting. The proposed raise for 2020 would cost taxpayers about $380,000 this year since it would only apply for the final six months of the year. In 2021, the raise would cost taxpayers about $760,000.

County employees received a 2% raise in 2019. All employees got a 3% pay increase in 2017, while certified peace officers in the sheriff's office received another pay increase that year.

While some commissioners believe county employees are deserving of a raise, some are rightfully questioning if the time is right to do so.

When giving their reasoning for considering the pay raise, commissioners are short on data. The county is losing employees, but commissioners won't say how many, which departments are seeing the largest turnover or why their workers are leaving. The county isn't keeping pace with salaries, but commissioners won't say how large that pay discrepancy is.

We have plenty of questions that commissioners should be able to answer on the spot.

How does the county's pay scale compare to neighboring counties and cities? How does the pay scale compare to counties and cities of similar size? Does the county have detailed graphs showing this?

In the past five years, how many county employees have left their jobs? Which departments has the highest turnover? Where did they go? Why did they leave? Did any return to the county? Does the county conduct exit interviews with every employee who leaves voluntarily?

Does the county survey current employees? For example, among current employees, how important is salary? Do other factors (benefits, work schedules, etc.) outweigh pay?

Can the county afford the pay increase? How are sales tax collections tracking? What about hotel/motel tax collections? How are budget projections looking for the rest of 2020? Can the county take an approximate $760,000 hit next year?

Commissioners should be able to justify all spending with data and statistics.

A blanket answer that employees "deserve" a raise demonstrates commissioners haven't done their homework.

They shouldn't wing it.

This is our money they are spending.

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