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Electeds take another crack at salary matrix


August 12, 2021

A salary matrix that helps place county employees in the correct role at the right pay level is something Crook County’s elected officials have been trying to put in place for years. After stalling on the previous attempt, however, department heads met with the county commissioners last week to figure out how to move forward.

“What we need to come up with, in my opinion, is the process,” began County Attorney Joe Baron.

Baron was referring to the process of determining the salary that would be appropriate for a specific role. He felt this needs to be agreed upon before the elected officials can move ahead with following that process to actually create the matrix.

Right now, he said, when a new employee is hired or a current employee is promoted or given a pay increase, the elected official or department head comes to the commission and makes a request. Baron recommended a “simplified process” through which such things as an employee’s experience, longevity in the role, education, performance, compensation levels for the same role in nearby communities and so on can be factored into the decision-making prior to that request being made of the commission.

Other counties already do this, Baron said, but it’s difficult to determine exactly how they go about it. In Teton County, for example, a human resources (HR) department is responsible for the process, but Crook County does not have HR staff.

Baron appealed to the commissioners for their input from the opposite perspective to the department heads (including the elected officials) who make the requests.

“What would help you feel more comfortable in making those decisions?” he asked.

Commissioner Kelly Dennis expressed that he feels comfortable with the department heads deciding how to allocate the block of money that the commissioners allocate to salaries within their department.

“It has to fit into what dollars we can allocate to salary,” he said.

Clerk of District Court Tina Wood said that discussions among the department heads have tended towards creating salary ranges and job classes.

“If we came up with that, would you support that?” she asked. “Because that’s the direction we all want to go.”

Until now, Wood said, the discussion has been lacking in buy-in from the commissioners, but this needs to be a “format we all have to live by.”

Commissioner Fred Devish shared his opinion that this will be a tough policy to implement because it’s not feasible for everyone with the same job title to make the same amount of money due to factors like longevity in the role and performance.

“There’s got to be some leeway for the elected or department head,” he said.

Baron asked if it would be helpful to create a compensation committee, which would review requests and provide oversight and then make recommendations to the commission. If the department head does not agree with the committee’s findings, they can then make their case to the board, he said.

Devish agreed this would be useful, as he feels it’s vital to “take the personalities out of this” and focus purely on the criteria. In other words, he said, setting salaries is about the job role and the facts of such things as their prior experience and job performance; it is not, he said, about the person themselves.

Personalities cannot be allowed to enter the mix, Devish said; “They’ve either met the criteria or they have not.”

Wood suggested it could be an idea to also have a personnel committee to determine what exactly a job position entails. For example, if Road & Bridge want to add the new position of “mechanic,” the committee would determine how that job role should be compensated (while the compensation committee focuses on how employees move between the levels of the matrix.)

Road & Bridge Foreman Morgan Ellsbury and Maintenance Foreman Larry Schommer both expressed that they do not support the idea of a committee. Ellsbury stated that, in the example of creating a mechanic position, he would know better than the committee what that job role is and does.

Schommer meanwhile expressed concern that a job role within his department may be less visible than one who works within the courthouse building and the committee might not understand what functions they actually perform.

That, said Wood, is exactly what would be brought to the committee. Baron pointed out that discrepancies between the committee and department head could be brought before the commission.

Once the committee has set the classification, he continued, the department head then has a salary range to work within. If a change is needed, such as that it proves difficult to retain staff at that salary range, the department head can come in and explain the issue.

“The elected or department head still has discretion once it’s set up,” Baron added. Said Wood, the department head would have the ability to determine when employees should move between steps on the matrix,

Sheriff Jeff Hodge explained that the situation is different for department heads who answer directly to the commission as their employers than for the elected officials who do not. The commission may be more aware of the intricacies of job roles within those departments, he said, and introducing the committee would make the decision-making process more impartial.

“Personnel versus persons,” agreed Wood. Baron noted that it would also be more transparent.

Creating such a process was most recently tried two years ago, said Wood. Unfortunately, it did not proceed because no response was received from Road & Bridge.

“You’ve made your point,” said Dennis as the conversation moved on to what the department heads should do next.

Baron suggested that all department heads write down their own process for determining employee salary and research possibilities and then bring the results to the next department head meeting. At that time, he said, the group can decide which to use as a basis.

The commission directed the department heads to return next meeting with a suggested process.


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