During a budget meeting of the Saline County Quorum Court Finance Committee on Tuesday, the committee voted to approve 27 pay periods for 2020 and a transfer of funds to cover the additional pay period.
Committee Chair Josh Curtis told the committee a 27th pay period happens for bi-weekly paid employees every 11 years.
He said with the planned cost of living increase, COLA, and the 26 pay periods, the budget was already $171,000 over budget.
Christy Peterson, human resources director for the county, presented an email from Eddie Jones, from the Association of Counties, who had been contacted by several counties about this same issue.
She said last time this occurred the county chose to pay it.
Jones' email included three options.
The first is to divide the salary of the employees over the 27 pay periods, which would result in smaller pay checks per period.
"They are not going to understand that," Peterson said.
The second option is to change the multiplier used to establish pay from 26 to 26.0893, which more accurately reflects the weeks in a year. The issue with this method would be that employees would be played slightly less per year in 26 pay period years.
The third option Jones' email included is to pay the same in each pay period and just add the additional pay period, which he said would be an effective increase in pay for that year.
Jones said that is what the majority of employers choose to do because it is easiest and affects employees the least.
"As a steward of the county's money, I suggest you forego COLA," Peterson said about how to cover the cost.
When asked, Peterson said the average cost of a pay period is $450,000. If employees were given a 3 percent COLA it would cost close to $200,000 in additional funds.
Curtis said that would be on top of the deficit the county is already looking at. He added next time around the county should plan for this a few years out.
Saline County Judge Jeff Arey said he sees those three options as the only options and doesn't really see the first as an actual option because it would lower hourly pay. He feels that option would be a nightmare for employees.
He added that paying the 27th pay period for employees would be a raise for the year or a bonus.
Committee Member Pat Bisbee said he believes option three is the best for employee moral.
Curtis said there will be three months in 2020 with a third pay period and would put the county $400,000 in the red.
He told the committee that he and Arey had discussed an option to pay for the pay period.
He said up until four years ago, the Office of Emergency Management would reimburse the general fund for part of the the 911 operators' salaries when the 911 funds came in at the end of the year. Now there is $1.3 million in unappropriated funds in the 911 funds. He said they could approve a transfer to reimburse what hadn't been in the last few years.
OEM Director Brandon Guillot said that would not have a substantial affect on the office.
Arey explained that every few years they have to upgrade the 911 systems, which should be coming up again soon. They had kept the money to prepare for the next upgrade, which he estimated would cost around half a million dollars. He called the $1.3 million a healthy amount and more than was needed. He is comfortable appropriating some of that surplus.
Curtis added that next year they are expecting 911 fees to double.
Curtis said the vote here would add it to the preliminary budget but would still need a final vote of the Quorum Court.
The committee voted to approve adding the 27th pay period. It also approved a transfer of $500,000 as a line item in the budget from the OEM budget to general revenue.
Curtis asked Peterson to send out a memo letting employees know.
They said because there will not be a COLA this year, they will need to change the numbers in the budget before it is approved.
The budget meeting came after the Finance Committee Meeting. During that meeting the committee approved:
* The ACT 833 Resolution which allows for the distribution of ACT 833 funds to fire departments in the county.
• An ordinance establishing the Additional Motor Fuel Tax Fund to track the revenue and expenditures of the wholesale tax on gasoline and diesel levied under Act 416 of 2019.
• New voting machines for use.
• Transfer of Jail Construction Funds.
• Appropriating 911 emergency funds to pay for a 911 study done with Benton and Bryant. Based on call volume and population, the county paid 50 percent and the two cities each paid 30 percent.
• Funds to pay to upgrade 18 sirens.
Everything approved by the committee will still need Quorum Court approval.
The next Quorum Court meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Saline County Courthouse. All meetings are open to the public and attendance is encouraged.