During a meeting on Tuesday, the Cache County Council voted for all unelected county employees to receive an 8% increase to their total pay as a cost of living adjustment.
The issue was discussed in a workshop before the meeting, where the county’s Human Resources Director, Amy Adams, told the council that 39 county employees have left in the past nine months. In 2021, 38 county employees left their positions.
Adams presented data from other local governments that showed the average cost of living adjustment for the 2023 fiscal year to be 7.5%, with a 3.75% merit and 10% market adjustment.
“As we talked about this as a compensation committee, the recommendation is that Cache County receive a 8% cost of living adjustment,” Adams said. “A 3% budget increase.”
Adams explained the county can currently offer new attorneys around $61,000. In the current market, those applicants are receiving other job offers for $80,000. The cost of living adjustment will allow the county to be more competitive with their offer.
Finance Director Cameron Jensen showed the county is currently forecasted to have the available funds to pay for the adjustment with the money that would have gone to the compensation of employees who have left.
At the behest Council Member Gina Worthen, Jensen specified that in the future, the money will have to come from other places. This could mean tax increases, budget reductions in other areas or the expenditure of fund balance.
Though Council Member Gordon Zilles expressed discouragement at how much compensation increase the county has had to provide to be competitive with the market, he stated he didn’t see much of a choice.
“It’s very, very, very expensive to train people, and it’s very costly to lose them,” Zilles said. “It’s much more important, and it’s our assignment as a council, to do the very best we can to retain our employees so that we don’t have to hire somebody and train them and be that far behind.”
Council Chair Barbara Tidwell said if something wasn’t done, the issue would only grow for next year. Council Member David Erickson said if nothing was done, some county services won’t be available.
“I think there are some services we could cut back a little bit on,” Erickson said, “but not very many.”
Later, after deliberation in the council meeting, the conversation was split between the compensation of elected officials and county employees.
Though Worthen expressed a desire to have a public hearing before making any of the changes, County Attorney John Luthy pushed for a faster decision for the attorney’s office, saying he would likely lose a job applicant to a better offer between Tuesday and when the decision was made if it was delayed to the next meeting. Though the cost of living adjustment still wouldn’t allow a competitive offer to be made, Luthy said he could make an attractive offer if the council approved next year’s market adjustment early for the attorney’s office.
Erickson wondered what would happen if the budgetary changes were made only for the county to find they couldn’t pay to keep the changes in the next year’s budget.
“Do we just take it from them? Go backwards? Or we’ve got to increase taxes?” Erickson questioned. “I’m worried about how it’s painting us into the corner.”
Worthen agreed, saying that though she wants to grant the employees the raise, she doesn’t want to raise taxes to do so.
Adams said delaying the decision would put the county in a harder position next year.
“My problem is, we maybe can’t even afford the market,” Erickson said.
After a motion passed to approve the market adjustment for the three county branches who were determined to be the most in need — the sheriff’s department, public works department, and attorney’s office — a second motion was made to approve the cost of living adjustment for county employees retroactively to July 3.
Erickson moved to amend the motion so the increase may not exceed $990,000, the amount the council was told would need to approve for the employees.
The motion passed with Worthen’s vote being the only in opposition. Council members Paul Borup and Karl Ward weren’t present at the meeting.
Adams was visibly happy with the decision.
“On behalf of the employees, I want to say thank you,” she said. “I know how much it will help everyone.”
The elected official cost of living adjustment will be discussed in a public hearing during the next council meeting.