published Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Pay equity panel explores hurdles in Bradley County

  • photo
    Gary Hayes, a consultant with the County Technical Assistance Service
    Photo by Lido Vizzutti

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- The road to a uniform salary and benefits system for all Bradley County employees could be a tricky one to navigate, officials said.

On Monday, the county's compensation study panel met with Gary Hayes, a consultant with the County Technical Assistance Service, to discuss possible strategies and pitfalls.

Core challenges to adopting a uniform pay system include acquiring full participation of all county offices, resources to conduct an objective pay study and funding to implement any changes, officials said.

"You've got to have buy-in from the fee offices," Hayes told the panel members. "Statutorily, the county has no authority to make them participate."

Fee offices, which include clerks of court, clerk and masters, trustees, registers of deeds and sheriffs, have the authority to set up their own pay scales and benefits, Hayes said.

Hayes said such offices sometimes are more resistant to salary changes than the departments paid from the county's general fund. Even if they provide data for a study, they are not necessarily obligated to adopt a countywide plan, he said.

Bradley County commissioners voiced concern about the ability of fee offices to opt out of a universal pay system, even after thousands of dollars have been spent on a study.

"After spending $30,000 or $40,000, you [may] end up right back where you started," said Louie Alford, chairman of the Bradley County Commission. "There's no way of locking in anything, and that's what I don't like about it."

Hayes said an alternative to creating a countywide salary grade system would be to limit a new merit program to a few areas, citing law enforcement, emergency services and the fire department as examples.

He recommended county leaders focus on the issue driving the push for a countywide grade system, whether that is pay equity or something else. Beyond salary and benefits, Hayes said, work environment and job security should be considerations in any equation.

Implementation of a new system -- even if limited to a few departments -- could prove cost-prohibitive, said Terry Caywood, chairman of the compensation study committee.

Caywood said the largest stumbling block to merging county and city fire services was the inability to pay county firefighters as much as their city counterparts.

"I don't see any easy solutions," he said.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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