OPINION: Raises for some doesn’t seem right

Published 12:28 pm Monday, April 30, 2018

Something seems wrong when a vital community service needs to cut hours because of low employee retention and wages, while at the same time, elected officials who hold the purse strings are getting a raise.

The Clark County Animal Shelter announced Thursday it would eliminate walk-in adoption hours, citing staffing shortages and safety concerns.

The decision came after the Clark County Fiscal Court voted 4-2 Wednesday against requests from the shelter director to increase the starting salaries for shelter employees. Judge-Executive Henry Branham and Magistrate Sheila McCord voted in favor of the raise, while magistrates Robert Blanton, Joe Graham, Daniel Konstantopoulos and Pamela Blackburn voted against the measure. Magistrate Greg Elkins was not present.

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The request was made not to give raises to current employees, but as an attempt to recruit and retain qualified employees for the shelter, which houses and rehomes hundreds of animals annually. Right now, the shelter is operating with a staff of only three employees — the director, one full-time kennel attendant and one part-time attendant.

Shelter Director Adreanna Wills asked the court to raise starting salaries for the assistant director and full-time and part-time kennel attendants, which are vacant positions. Wills proposed raising the hourly wage for the assistant director from $13.19 to $15.26, for the kennel attendant II from $9.87 to $10.33, kennel attendant I from $9.37 to $9.87 and for the animal control officer from $12.56 to $14.54 an hour. No raise for the part-time attendant or director were proposed.

Together, the proposed raises would have added $13,420.80 to the budget annually. That figure includes overtime pay, but not insurance or retirement.

That seems like a small price to pay for what we believe is a vital service the shelter provides to our community.

Moreso, the budgetary impact seems minor compared to a recent salary increase the court approved for themselves.

In March, the magistrates voted 5-2 to raise the salary and expenses budget for incoming magistrates. The same magistrates who voted against raising pay for the shelter employees — Blanton, Konstantopoulos, Blackburn and Graham — voted in favor of raising the magistrate salaries less than a month ago. Elkins also voted in favor of the magistrates’ pay increase.

The measure increased the salary for the six magistrates who will be elected in November to $750 per month plus $300 per month for expenses. The current magistrates are paid $423.12 in monthly salary and $150 for expenses each month.

That measure adds $34,335.36 in salary and expenses to the budget. Add in FICA and retirement, and the court added $46,595 to the annual budget. That’s more than three times the proposed increase to wages for the animal shelter.

With all the magistrates up for re-election this year, it seems wrong they would vote themselves a hopeful raise but deny raises to county employees in a move that would have a less significant impact on the budget.

The measure just doesn’t pass the logic test.

Elected officials, magistrates included, fulfill an often thankless job. We understand it would be wrong to ask them do their job for free and that they put in many, many hours behind the scenes. The job is more than attending twice-monthly meetings.

But, without an animal shelter, especially one of the caliber of ours, the community would see hundreds of animals euthanized each year. More stray animals would be left on the streets, creating nuisance and health issues and other hazards.

All decisions regarding pay increases and the budgetary impacts need to be scrutinized, especially now when counties will bear the burden of new legislation.

However, this is not the first pay increase for county employees the court has turned down.

It doesn’t seem logical, fair or right to give magistrate raises when they are not able to pay county employees enough to sufficiently recruit and retain quality workers.

The court has scheduled a special meeting Monday to discuss the current issues at the animal shelter.

We hope the meeting includes further discussion about how to work these minor pay increases into the budget or alternatives that will allow the shelter to provide this important public service.

Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper’s editorial board. The board is comprised of publisher Michael Caldwell and managing editor Whitney Leggett. To inquire about a meeting with the board, contact Caldwell at 759-0095.