Wednesday, January 11th, 2012
By Shelley Grieshop
County's healthy finances end staff wage freeze
  CELINA - Good financial news for the county has resulted in the termination of a wage freeze for employees.
Mercer County Commissioners on Tuesday said sound fiscal practices and an increase in sales tax revenue have boosted this year's general fund carryover about $274,000 over the previous year's. The beginning balance for 2012 is slightly over $2 million.
On Tuesday, commissioners and county auditor Randy Grapner drafted a "thank-you" memo to department heads explaining that an additional 2 percent would be placed in their employee salary accounts to distribute at their discretion.
"We feel it is important to reward our employees and inspire them to continue their strong work ethics as Mercer County faces yet another challenging year in 2012," the memo stated.
Commissioners said credit for the county's financial shape is two-fold: each department has helped keep expenses down while sales tax revenues climbed. The county collected $4 million in sales tax in 2011 - 6.7 [corrected] percent more than in 2010.
Appropriation figures for each county agency for 2012 have not been released. Commissioners hope to have the budget finalized early next week, they said.
Commissioners gave department heads the option of doling out raises up to 2 percent based on their employees' performances and/or the agency's needs. The salary increase for most of the county's 300 or so workers could cost between $65,000 and $70,000, commissioner Jerry Laffin explained.
Laffin said the last two years have been good for the county's coffers despite the ongoing recession.
"We were able with the cooperation of the elected officials, department heads and employees to reduce expenses," he said. "We felt we needed to do this."
Commissioner Bob Nuding agreed.
"We felt strongly that if there was any way we could show our appreciation to them (county workers) ... why not?" he said. "We've got good people and should take care of them as best we can."
Commissioner John Bruns said employees needed to be rewarded for the stress of the past budget-tight years.
"Through their efforts, cutting and scraping, we've got revenues ahead of expenses," he said.
Despite the good news, commissioners said they remain cautious. One of their ongoing funding woes is the 25 percent loss in local government funds this year and again in 2013.
"Hopefully we've rounded the curve and things will get better," Nuding said.
Commissioners in their memo requested that no raises be given to employees recently compensated for job changes/duties. Salaries won't change for elected officials. Their wages are set by Ohio's General Assembly, as stipulated in the Ohio Revised Code.
Raises have been a hot topic among county officials the last few years. Two years ago, commissioners asked each department head to implement a wage freeze when revenues began dropping. Although commissioners appropriate the funds, they cannot dictate how each agency spends its money.
Several departments ignored the wage freeze request and more than 100 county workers netted raises. In response, commissioners took back a portion of the money a few of the department heads distributed in raises. Some agency leaders voluntarily rescinded the salary increases.
Last month, commissioners appeared to violate their own wage freeze request by giving a raise to their clerk/administrator, Kim Everman, who recently took on extra duties. They argued their request for no raises did not apply to employees whose job classification or duties changed.

Correction:
The increase in taxes collected from 2010 to 2011 was corrected from 6.26% to 6.7% on January 12, 2012.
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