Coconino County supervisors respond to newspaper article.

Two recent articles this week in the Arizona Daily Sun, including one headlined “Bonuses on tap at county,” require clarifications and failed to include pertinent background information.

Both pieces target the County’s intention to grant staff a one-time 2.5 percent pay adjustment to compensate them for enduring more than three years of pay freezes, increased health care costs and a vacation purchase program. While the newspaper referred to it as a “bonus,” it was never considered nor referred to as such by County staff.

Since the recession hit in 2008, County staff have maintained the same level of service for residents, while responding to floods, tornadoes, snow storms and fire emergencies. Services remained unchanged even as positions were held open through attrition and without raises. This was done as take-home pay decreased and the cost of living increased locally.

One article eluded that the County should focus more on flood mitigation in the in Timberline. County officials have spent countless hours lobbying on behalf of residents impacted by the Shultz fire and subsequent floods. Through their efforts, millions in federal and state aid have been secured toward projects aimed at mitigating floods in our communities below the burn area.

The story stated that the County has made about $7 million in budget savings between 2008 and 2011, but the one-time adjustment is actually made possible and funded through current-year (FY 2012) salary savings.

One issue the County is working to resolve is its high turnover rate, which former employees have stated in exit surveys is directly related to lower pay. To clarify, the 2-percent turnover cited in one article only represented the lowest quarter in FY 2009. The actual annual turnover rate for that entire fiscal year was more than 16 percent, which is unsustainable and required the County to change its tactics to retain key staff.

When it comes to raises – until 2008 when wages were frozen – County employees did receive raises of at least 3 percent in 2007. However, our Human Resources Department cannot verify that an employee received a 21 percent increase, as stated in one article. Furthermore, the overall average for raises in 2007 was about 5 percent.

It is also worth pointing out that as the County works to reclassify staff to better align their positions with their duties, only 141 of the 400 positions moving into a higher classification (about 35 percent) will see any pay increase, which will be minimal. Meanwhile, 280 positions will be placed into a lower classification. While those in lower classifications will not have their pay reduced, their salary will essentially be capped if it’s at or above their new classification pay maximum.

As the economic recovery continues, the County Board of Supervisors and administration have recognized that employee turnover is unsustainable and innovative budget solutions must continue to be taken. The County has begun the upcoming budget process by re-evaluating and ranking every program offered by the County. Each program will then be scored to ensure they meet the County’s values and goals. That helps assure taxpayer money is being utilized in the most effective way possible.

Overall, our goal is continue to do the best job for the residents of Coconino County. Meanwhile, we must also create a more competitive compensation pay structure for staff, while decreasing costly turnover, and doing so in the most fiscally responsible way possible.