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11-21-02: Mercer County employee merit raises put in limbo
Commissioners set 2003 cost of living wage increase

The Daily Standard
    While inflation has stayed at a low level during the past 12 months, Mercer County still may be faced with little choice but budget reductions in 2003.
    Commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday setting the suggested 2003 cost of living wage increase for county employees at 1.3 percent, an amount equal to The Department of Labor Statistics' level of inflation between September 2001 and September 2002.
    Last year the commission passed a 2.6 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) on to county employees.
    Commissioner Jerry Laffin said Wednesday the passage for the COLA resolution does not mean that all 280-plus county employees will receive a raise. Commissioners only control the direct pay of employees who are paid from the county general fund. Other "outside" funds, such as the engineering office and MR/DD, have control of the annual wage increases.
    Department heads of outside funds use the COLA resolution as a guide, Laffin said.
    At an elected and appointed county officials' breakfast meeting Tuesday, Laffin said all county agencies were asked to suspend merit raises until after the 2003 appropriations are complete. Laffin said the commissioners are expecting new, large expenses and lower state government assistance.
    With the county budget footing an increase to healthcare costs for employees, Laffin said he expects the 23 percent increase in cost to equal approximately $200,000 in the annual budget.
    Also, the state's local government assistance funds again appear to be in jeopardy.
    In 2000 the state legislature put a freeze on three local government and public library assistance funds, which was supposed to keep levels the same for three years and save the state money. But when the freeze level became higher than what the actual payment level would have been if left alone, state officials again cut the funds.
    Now Laffin said he has heard whispers in Columbus that the funds may again be trimmed by the state. Celina Safety-Service Director Mike Sovinski has told Celina City Council members similar news.
    Laffin said a 15 percent cut in local government monies could mean $150,000 reduction in the county budget.


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