Traverse City News and Events

County Commissioners Approve Employee Wage Hike

By Beth Milligan | June 23, 2022

Grand Traverse County commissioners Wednesday approved a wage increase of up to three percent for all county employees effective in August – the latest in a line of cost-of-living and market adjustments intended to get employee wages closer to industry standards and make Grand Traverse County a more competitive employer. Commissioners Wednesday also discussed county spending ahead of a planned July 6 vote to approve an accelerated budget for 2023.

After going into closed session at a special meeting Wednesday, commissioners voted to approve a wage increase of up to three percent for all county employees and eligible elected officials this summer (the increase does not apply to commissioners’ own salaries). The three percent increase is above and beyond a 9.5 percent wage increase approved by the board for employees at the end of 2021. That increase was a combination of cost-of-living adjustments and a market adjustment to try and get county wage levels closer to industry standards. A separate cost-of-living increase of three percent for staff is also included in the 2023 budget, according to County Administrator Nate Alger. Commissioners agreed to raise wages in August instead of waiting until January, when the county's next fiscal year starts, to combat inflation and try to stay within a competitive market range for salaries.

"We want to be an employer of choice, and we recognize that even as we are making the efforts that we are that the cost of everything for families has gone up," said Commissioner Betsy Coffia. "We want to continue to do what we can to look out for employees and encourage retention."

The increases come on the heels of a countywide wage study completed by consulting firm Management Advisory Group (MAG) last year analyzing every county position and its salary, comparing county wages to both public and private sector competitors. According to MAG, nearly half of Grand Traverse County jobs at the time of the study were more than 10 percent below the market wage average. Getting within 10 percent of the average is considered competitive, consultants said, though they added the county’s goal should be to get within five percent.

Grand Traverse County has struggled with employee turnover in recent years, with the average employee staying less than five years and the turnover rate averaging 15.5 percent (other counties tend to be in the 12 percent range). County Human Resources Director Donna Kinsey previously told The Ticker she wanted to keep that percentage under 10 percent, and that departing employees cited wages as the number-one reason they left Grand Traverse County. Sheriff Tom Bensley voiced frustration to commissioners earlier this month about his department’s struggles to recruit county officers, blaming the vacancies on more robust salary and benefit packages offered by competing departments. Bensley thanked commissioners Wednesday for the decision to increase wages for county employees this summer. “I can tell you it is appreciated,” he said.

Commissioners Wednesday also reviewed county spending in a study session that preceded the special meeting – one of a series of budget discussions being held ahead of a July 6 vote to approve the 2023 budget. Grand Traverse County, which operates on a calendar fiscal year, normally goes through its budget process in the fall and approves the budget by December. However, this year the county is on an accelerated timeline to approve the budget in July to accommodate the county’s migration to a new software system. Commissioners reviewed the revenue side of the estimated $43 million budget on June 8; on Wednesday, staff dove into expenditures, comparing Grand Traverse County’s spending to counties of similar population sizes across Michigan.

Notable in the comparison highlights was Grand Traverse County’s high taxable value per capita of $58,037, eclipsing almost every other comparable county averaging in the $20,000-$45,000 range. “We have a high taxable value for a county our size,” Alger said. “To be in that position is a good thing.” Grand Traverse County also spends the most on law enforcement of any of its peer counties, a list that includes Allegan, Bay, Lapeer, Clinton, Midland, Eaton, and Van Buren counties. “It does show that Grand Traverse County prioritizes public safety more so than other counties,” Alger said.

Grand Traverse County was in the middle of the pack on millage rates and showed a “healthy” fund balance at 40 percent, according to Alger. County policy normally caps the fund balance at 25 percent, with monies over that amount to be distributed based on a commission-approved formula. Alger said he’d be recommending that commissioners raise the fund balance to 30 percent to create a more robust rainy day fund and consider different options going forward for utilizing excess funds.

At the July 6 meeting, Alger will present his final recommended budget, including recommended new staff positions. He told commissioners Wednesday that departmental requests for new positions funded by fees or millages – such as more aides at the Commission on Aging or field technicians at the Department of Public Works – will likely be recommended for approval, but those paid for by the county's general fund – like four more Sheriff’s Office employees – will likely not. Alger said that was because administrators wanted to continue focusing on improving conditions for the employees the county already has, rather than on expanding the employee base.

In other county news…
 > The Grand Traverse County Health Department has launched a new interactive beach monitoring dashboard for the summer. The dashboard will be updated every Thursday and show the results of weekly E. coli sample results at 11 local beaches, including Acme Bayside Park, Bryant Park, Clinch Park, East Bay Park, Haserot Beach, Sayler Park, Sunset Park, TC Senior Center, TC Volleyball Beach, Traverse City State Park, and West End Beach. If any samples come back at a “Level 2” or higher – meaning limited or no water contact is recommended at that beach due to elevated E. coli levels – the department will issue a public press release and resample the beach, with updated results posted within 24 hours. “The dashboard will not only share current levels, but serve as a tool for the community to make decisions on which beaches they choose to enjoy during the summer months,” according to the Health Department.

> Grand Traverse County will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday from 10am to 11am to commemorate the opening of its new public Fitness Court on the Boardman Lake Trail near the Tenth Street trailhead by Oryana. The free open-air wellness center – a partner project of the county, Priority Health, and the National Fitness Campaign– is designed to allow users to leverage their own body weight to get a full workout and is adaptable for all fitness levels. Traverse City is now home to the second outdoor court in Grand Traverse County; the first court opened in Blair Township last summer.

> Finally, Grand Traverse County has released its 2021 annual report, a 22-page illustrated document summarizing notable numbers and milestones from the past year. The report includes a message from the county administrator, major actions taken by county commissioners, county-issued grants, public service initiatives, and local development projects. The report also includes departmental highlights, including statistics from the county clerk’s office, construction code, health department, and more.

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