SWEETWATER COUNTY – While a cost of living adjustment was approved by the Sweetwater County Commissioners for employees, the debate focused around Wyoming retirement.
The commissioners approved a 2 ½ percent cost of living adjustment for county employees on Tuesday. Head of Human Resources Garry McLean provided information about cost of living in southwest Wyoming as well as the state as a whole. He also gave the commissioner information of the cost of valued goods in the state and also southwest Wyoming.
The last cost of living increase for the county came in 2008-2009 when the commissioners gave a 2 ½ percent increase then. While McLean said there is a gap of between $5,000 to $7,000 compared to other counties, a number of one-time bonuses have basically made it a wash.
The county has prided itself on the benefits it provides employees. During the debate, it was also noted the cost of the Wyoming retirement will again be going up in July for county employees. Since getting involved with Wyoming retirement, the county has completely picked up the bill each time it has gone up. It is about a 4.6 percent increase.
Commissioner Reid West pointed this out explaining he thinks this is forgotten when they talk about cost of living increases. He said the commissioners have paid this instead of passing the increase down to the employees to make up the difference.
Chairman Wally Johnson has historically said he is not in favor of a cost of living increase but has been very supportive of the one time bonuses throughout the past years. Johnson told a story about the steelworkers and how they were asked to take a pay cut. He said the union refused and the company had to lay off workers because they could not afford it.
“When do we get to the point we can no long afford it and have to lay off positions?” Johnson asked. “Our job is to protect your jobs. We have got to be prudent.”
After making the statement, Johnson said it is apparent departments are losing people to higher wages in other places and this time he would support a cost of living adjustment.
Commissioner John Kolb said he too would be in favor of it but said he thinks the problem is the commissioners do not get the credit they deserve for the costs they do cover for the employees.
While most commissioners stated they would be in favor of a 2 ½ percent increase, Commissioner Gary Bailiff said he believed it should be a 3 ½ percent increase and called 2 ½ percent “borderline cheapskate.” Bailiff said while paying the retirement is good, it does not put money in the bank right now.
Commissioner Don Van Matre said the county has very good employees that need to be compensated. However, he said they have to be cautious when it comes to the budget and taxpayer money. Van Matre said he believes the county valuation will continue this year and he feels they can afford a cost of living adjustment this year. He added he thinks it is important to keep quality employees in the organization.
The commissioners unanimously approved the 2 ½ percent cost of living adjustment as well as picking up the increase for the employees retirement.