Salt Lake County employees may not get next raise

By Jeremiah Stettler
The Salt Lake Tribune

Thousands of Salt Lake County government workers may not see an expected pay and benefits bump — the fallout from a still-wobbly economy.

The County Council is expected to pull back from earlier plans to raise employee salaries and 401(k) contributions by 1 percent this summer, fearing the economic slowdown will leave coffers too cash-strapped to afford it.

“While nobody likes to not get a pay increase,” Councilman Jim Bradley said, “we still have a responsibility to the public to provide a service. I don’t want to sound cavalier, but the ability to hold a job in this economy is becoming more and more of a premium. We have to keep that in perspective.”

The council put off its decision until next week to allow time to explore the issue with employee groups.

County leaders previously called for higher compensation this year to restore the 2.75 percent cut in salaries and benefits that came during the Great Recession.

But the so-called “restoration” wasn’t supposed to come all at one time. The first increase came in January. Subsequent raises were scheduled for July 2011 and January 2012. By then, the county’s 3,500 full-time employees were supposed to have their salaries back to pre-recession levels.

But here was the catch: The upticks in compensation would come only if revenues were healthy enough to support it.

The council determined Tuesday that the ledger is too weak to add the nearly $1.7 million expense that would come with higher pay and benefits.

“I feel bad if we have given any false expectations,” Council Chairman Max Burdick said.

Jan Johnson, executive director of the Utah Alliance of Government Employees, wants to see the numbers. She said revenue projections seemed considerably brighter just a few months ago.

“I’m a little lost in the revenue picture,” she said. “We are going to keep the commitment alive as long as we can keep it alive.”

Councilman Randy Horiuchi spoke out Tuesday in favor of higher compensation. He said the council should look deeper for extra employee cash.

“I don’t feel good about whisking it away,” he argued. “Maybe we will have to work harder in the budget process.”

Those comments came shortly after the council heard news that property taxes — the county’s largest source of revenue — won’t see any growth this year. Sales taxes, too, remain below expectations.

Even Mayor Peter Corroon, who recommended the incremental pay increases, said he would be nervous to boost compensation now.

“There was an understanding that we would do the best we can, based on how the economy is doing,” Councilman David Wilde said. “I think we are dealing in good faith in saying the economy is still not doing what we want it to be doing.”

But no spike in compensation, Johnson fears, would mean that employees “aren’t going to get anywhere but further behind.”

Twitter: Stettler_Trib

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