County board debates probationary pay increases

by Peter Bodley
Managing Editor

Proposed language changes to Anoka County’s personnel rules and regulations governing promotional probationary period pay increases caused a sometimes heated debate at the Dec. 13 Anoka County Board meeting.

In the end, the board unanimously agreed to table a decision on the changes, recommended by its Benefits and Compensation Committee, to its Jan. 10 meeting to allow for further discussion.

The proposal from the committee would limit the pay increase of up to 5 percent of their base salary on successful completion of the six-month probation period only when a new employee joins Anoka County.

According to the language in the committee’s recommendation, in no event shall the employee be eligible for an initial hire salary increase before the employee has been in the position for six month, regardless of when the employee successfully completes probation.

And the language states that the raise is in lieu of accelerated range movement.

Former employees who are rehired as regular employees won’t be eligible for an initial hire probation salary increase when they return to the same or similar job classification that they formerly occupied, the recommended language states.

Right now, the eligibility for the up to 5 percent raise applies not only to new hires, but also to existing employees who are promoted to another position and successfully complete the six-month probation in the new job.

With their promotion, those employees also get an automatic 3 percent pay increase for every salary grade level they move up with the promotion, according to Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah, who is a member of the Benefits and Compensation Committee along with County Commissioner Robyn West.

The new language also requires that any increase for the new hire would not exceed the midpoint of the appropriate salary range.

The current language for promotion probation increase of up to 5 percent states that it will not exceed the salary range maximum.

County Commissioner Jim Kordiak objected to the issue being brought before the board at the last minute – it was not part of the agenda packet which board members received the Thursday before the board meeting.

According to Kordiak, there had been no prior discussion by board members about the proposed changes.

“Bringing it forward today lacks transparency,” Kordiak said.

In his view, the current policy, which had been in place for many years, had not caused any problems that Kordiak was aware of during his 20 years as chairman of the Management Committee, he said.

It is well known that Anoka County pays its employees less than do comparable counties in the metro area and this is a way to spur career advancement in county government, Kordiak said.

“Show me there is a serious problem,” he said.

But Sivarajah said there was plenty of transparency because committee meetings are now posted on the county website and on the county bulletin board on the ground floor of the Anoka County Government Center.

The bulletin board “is not hidden on the seventh floor where no one can see it,” she said.

And Sivarajah said any county commissioner is welcome to attend meetings of committees where they are not a listed.

“But you don’t have a chance to say anything,” Kordiak said.

According to Sivarajah, a reason for the proposed change is that employees receiving the promotional probationary increase sometimes end up earning more than a longtime employee in the same position and this “leapfrogging” has a “ripple effect.”

Under the present system, a person who is promoted and moves up three salary grade levels would get a 3 percent raise for each of the three grade-level movements plus be eligible for up to a 5 percent increase if they successfully completed their probationary period, Sivarajah said.

And while Anoka County employees may not earn as much as their counterparts in other counties, she said the county’s benefit package was “extremely generous” and “much richer” than other counties.

County Commissioner Carol LeDoux, who described herself as “data driven,” wanted to see information on the impact of the present policy before voting on the proposed change, she said.

It’s important that the county provide incentives for people to grow in their careers, LeDoux said.

County Commissioner Andy Westerberg found the proposal “confusing” and also wanted more information.

County Commissioner Matt Look said employees would still get wage increases when they were promoted and he did not think it was the type of issue “to get upset about.”

But he said it was a complicated issue and suggested that the matter be tabled to give county board members time to sit down and talk about the proposal if it was not time sensitive.

“That’s exactly what I would like to see happen,” LeDoux said.

She asked staff to provide information on how often the current promotion probationary wage increase provision had been implemented over the past three years as well as to look at what other counties are doing.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]