Darin Johnson

In this January 2019 photo, the Hughes County Commission gets a briefing from Sheriff Darin Johnson. Commissioner Randy Vance, shown here on the left, was chosen chairman last week, succeeding Roger Inman, in the center here. Others from the left are Norm Weaver, Connie Hohn and Bill Abernathy. The Commission last week voted 5-0 to give county employees a 3 percent raise in 2020.

Hughes County employees are getting a 3 percent pay raise this year after a 100 percent vote by the five-member County Commission on Nov. 4. But it took a swift change of minds by three of the Commissioners from an Oct. 21 vote of 3-2 to raise pay only 2.4 percent.

On Monday, Jan. 6, the Commission voted to memorialize the 3 percent increase to fulfill state requirements to publicize the pay rates for all employees.

“I’m glad we got 3 percent for this next year,” Commissioner Connie Hohn said as the Commission voted 5-0 on Monday, Jan. 6 on the salary resolution being published.

The pay raise went into effect Dec. 25, because of the county’s pay period schedule, said County Manager Kevin Hipple.

The annual pay raise goes to all 93 people listed on the resolution, including the five commissioners themselves, who each will make $15,946 this year, up from about $15,482 in 2019.

There is no seniority pay for the part-time Commissioners: Roger Inman, first elected in 2000 with his fifth four-year term up this year, and Bill Abernathy, appointed in December 2001 and first elected in 2002, make the same as Hohn and Randy Vance, who were elected in November 2018.

Commissioner Norm Weaver first was elected in 2008.

Vance was elected chairman of the commission last week in the first meeting of the year, succeeding Roger Inman to the position.

Vance had voted for the 2.4 percent increase for employees on Oct. 21, along with then-Chairman Inman and Commissioner Bill Abernathy. But Vance apparently changed his mind within days, and made the motion on Nov. 4 to make the cost-of-living increase 3 percent for employees in 2020. All five commissioners voted for the motion for a 3 percent raise.

Connie Hohn on Oct. 21 had spoken up for a 3 percent raise and she and Commissioner Norm Weaver voted against the 2.4 percent increase that day.

Such a 3-2 vote is rare on the Commission in which 5-0 votes are seen 95 percent of the time or more.

Hohn asked Hipple on Oct. 21 how much a 3 percent raise would cost the county versus 2.4 percent. Hipple said a 1 percent annual increase in county pay amounts to about $45,000, meaning the total payroll is about $4.5 million a year. It also would mean that a 3 percent raise would cost the county about $27,000 more than a 2.4 percent increase, Hipple said.

The 2.4 percent figure was based on the federally figured Consumer Price Index widely used as a measure of inflation for 2019. That CPI amount also becomes the ceiling allowed by the state for the county to increase the amount of property tax revenue collected, along with any “growth,” figured for added property values in a county. So any pay increase over the CPI level could involve finding money from other sources than property tax revenue.

A staff recommendation had been a 3 percent raise for county’s employees, whether wage, salaried, managers or Commission members.

Commission Chair Inman said on Oct. 21 that while he thinks “we have the greatest employees in the state,” it seemed prudent for the Commission to hold to the CPI figure for setting 2020 raises.

Inman said he figured he would hear from county employees.

Whatever, there had been a change of mind on the Commission by Nov. 4.

On Jan. 6, County Manager Kevin Hipple said 3 percent is as high as an annual pay increase has been for Hughes County employees, as long as he’s been the top administrator, which is about 14 years.

Hipple is the highest paid county employee, and will be paid $90,690 this year. State’s Attorney Roxanne Hammond will be paid $84,872, according to the resolution passed Jan. 6 publicizing the 3 percent raises. Deputy State’s Attorney Jessica LaMie is paid $72,409

Sheriff Darin Johnson, who oversees about half the county’s employees in the sheriff’s office and the County Jail, is paid $72,100 this year.

Highway Superintendent Mike Meyer is paid $71,992.

Finance Officer Jane Naylor, who is auditor as part of her duties, is paid $67,316

Based on the rough estimate of a total payroll of $4.5 million a year, the average salary of the 93 employees listed in the 2020 salary resolution is $48,387.

At the Oct. 21 meeting, county officials discussed at length how difficult it was getting to recruit and hold employees in the state’s tight labor market that shows about 2.5 percent unemployment.

In Pierre, of course,aside from the city itself, a main government competitor for county employees is the state, with the Highway Patrol, the state Women’s Prison and a host of other state jobs often wooing county employees away if the county doesn’t keep pay rates competitive, commissioners agreed.

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