County workers get hefty raises

More than a dozen nonunion Jackson County workers have received raises of more than $10,000 this year.

Another 20 workers got raises between $5,000 and $10,000.

Approximately 76 nonunion workers received raises totaling more than $450,000 for the fiscal year that started this summer.

Another 166 workers didn’t get raises following a consultant’s review and compensation study that compared the pay of nonunion, unelected

Jackson County employees to the pay of others in similar jobs, according to salary information obtained by the Mail Tribune.

“We have to pay mid-market at least. If a position is hard to fill, we have to pay a little higher. We have to pay enough to attract professionals,” said Jackson County Human Resources Director Karen Ramorino.

Ramorino received a raise of $9,589, lifting her salary from $92,352 to $101,941, salary data show.

The review compared Jackson County compensation to pay in Douglas, Deschutes, Lane, Linn, Marion, Washington, Clackamas and Benton counties, she said.

Jackson County Senior Deputy District Attorney Harvey Bragg said it’s fair to compare Jackson County to Portland-area counties, as long as the difference in the cost of living between the two areas is factored in.

His pay went from $151,694 to $155,709 — an increase of $4,015.

Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan authorized the pay raises following the study and more examination of the issue by county workers who sat on a classification and compensation committee.

Jordan’s pay went from $259,753 to $266,635, a raise of $6,882, according to salary information that was not part of the compensation study.

Jordan’s pay is decided in a separate process. The increase was due to a cost-of-living adjustment.

Jordan said although he authorized raises for some workers, most of the increase they received came from regular cost-of-living adjustments and raises employees receive as they gain experience on the job, not because of the compensation review.

Jackson County last did a compensation study for its nonunion workers a decade ago. Union workers receive more regular raises due to negotiations with management, Bragg said.

Public employee unions typically negotiate three-year contracts.

The pay raises for nonunion workers affected a variety of employees, including administrative assistants, lawyers, information technology specialists, supervisors and several department directors.

Administrative assistants who received raises are now earning $2,038 to $5,886 more — bringing their annual salaries to $28,153 to $59,280, data show.

The biggest pay boost — $16,444 — went to a senior assistant county counsel who now earns $94,298, according to the data.

The county’s technology director received a $14,830 raise, bringing his pay from $126,734 to $141,565.

Pay for the airport director went from $114,962 to $128,378, an increase of $13,416.

An increase in pay for some positions, including the airport director and finance director/treasurer, came in part because their

responsibilities and duties have increased over the years, Jordan said.

The airport, for example, has seen a boom in the number of customers it serves, he said.

“A lot of it has to do with the job changing,” Jordan said.

Pay went up for 17 deputy district attorney positions, with raises ranging from $8,404 to $12,341. That lifted salaries to between $67,251 and $105,883.

District Attorney Beth Heckert said the county needed to pay more to attract and retain attorneys in her office.

As an elected official, Heckert’s pay is reviewed separately by the Jackson County Elected Officials Salary Committee.

“We spend a lot of money training our attorneys and sending them to conferences and so forth, and so we definitely want to remain competitive so people will stay here for long periods of time,” Heckert said. “And the raises were necessary to kind of bring us up to par a little bit more with those other counties.”

Oregon’s law schools are north in the Willamette Valley, meaning the DA’s Office has to compete to attract recent graduates to Southern Oregon, she said.

Heckert said other attorney positions in the Medford area pay more, including with employers such as the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The DA’s Office recently lost its gang caseload deputy district attorney to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Another attorney in the office got tapped by Gov. Kate Brown to fill a judicial vacancy, Heckert said.

Although that speaks well of the work being done in the DA’s Office, it also shows the competitive nature of the job market, she said.

Jordan said he asked the Jackson County Budget Committee to approve a bigger budget for the DA’s Office to pay for the raises.

“They approved added costs for the DA’s Office,” he said.

Other departments absorbed raises in their regular budgets, Jordan said.

Other positions that received raises of $10,000 or more were county auditor with a $12,230 raise, finance director/treasurer with an $11,918 raise and a second senior assistant county counsel employee with an $11,901 raise.

Jackson County Health and Human Resources Director Mark Orndoff said his department is in competition nationwide to attract mental health workers.

He was on the classification and compensation committee that looked at pay, but was not among those who received a raise following the review.

Some administrative assistants and supervisors in Orndoff’s department received raises as part of the study, Ramorino said.

Some mental health positions are unionized and were not part of the review. Other positions had been allocated higher pay in past years, including a psychiatrist position that was hard to fill, she said.

Orndoff said the Health and Human Resources Department has to compete for mental health workers against other counties as well as hospitals, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other providers.

“We need to make sure we stayed competitive,” he said. “It’s not often I lose folks to another county. I lose them to other health systems.”

Orndoff said he believes the county should review the compensation of nonunion workers more often than once per decade. Waiting that long allows some positions to get far out of line with the market.

As for his dual role as a county employee and member of the classification and compensation committee, Orndoff said it was awkward for him and others to examine the issue of raises when they themselves might benefit.

“It was honestly fairly uncomfortable for all of us,” he said. “We relied heavily on data the Human Resources Department was able to gather for us.”

The committee also looked at other research on pay elsewhere to come up with recommendations, Orndoff said.

The Mail Tribune obtained the information on pay raises after filing public records requests and paying $248 in fees to the county.

The unusually high cost of the records was due mainly to a charge for two hours of work by the county’s information technology department to compile salary data from the prior fiscal year to compare against current pay.

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