The Kootenai County clerk met with the commissioners on Thursday to appeal the downgrade of two positions in his department, out of concern that those positions would be under-compensated as a result.
"You're lowering the amount they could potentially earn," said Clerk Cliff Hayes, speaking in the commissioners' board room. "That's the bottom line."
This was one more step in a several-year process to classify hundreds of job descriptions at Kootenai County. Following a consultant's review in 2005, a Position Review Committee comprised of county officials conducted another review of the county's 294 job descriptions.
Last January, the commissioners announced the committee's findings, which included lowering 99 positions by one grade, and 18 position by two grades.
A decrease in grade puts a position in a different salary range, with lower earning potential.
Over the past year, the PRC heard appeals over their findings, after which the committee further adjusted 31 position grades.
Hayes approached the commissioners about two positions he felt the PRC didn't properly address: the county finance director, and the court services director.
The PRC was wrong in decreasing both positions by one grade, Hayes argued.
"This is an error, in my opinion," he said.
The finance director had been moved from a Q grade, which has minimum and maximum salaries of $65,449 and $95,216, to a P grade, which has a salary range of $59,272 to $86,189.
The court director had been dropped from an O grade, with a salary range of $53,893 to $78,287, to an N grade, with a salary range of $49,211 to $71,619.
Hayes challenged the PRC method of analyzing positions based on department hierarchy.
Just because the two positions operate beneath himself and the chief deputy clerk, he said, that doesn't mean their roles aren't highly specialized.
"There's no way we could do their job," Hayes said, adding that both positions depend on years of accumulated knowledge.
Both employees have already reached the maximum pay for their new grades, he pointed out, giving their salaries nowhere to go.
"Those two are there. They're capped," Hayes said.
And if he tries to hire someone new for one of their positions, he said, the starting salary will be too low to attract the necessary talent.
Although the commissioners didn't make a decision on the appeal, they said they would consider it further before adopting the PRC's new job classifications.
The commissioners have had similar concerns with other employees' grades, they acknowledged.
There are ways around the issues, said Commissioner Dan Green. For instance, giving employees bonuses instead of raises, when they have reached their max salaries.
"The other (option) is expanding the salary range," Green said, adding that the commissioners could launch a salary survey study.
A department head can always request to provide a higher starting salary, Commissioner Todd Tondee said.
"That's just a trip in front of the commissioners," Tondee said.
The commissioners have enacted a policy that no current employee's pay will be decreased as a result of their position's classification.
Commissioner Jai Nelson observed that limiting an employee's earning potential can have a psychological impact. She praised Hayes for bringing his concerns forward.
"I appreciate you're advocating for your people, and you should be," she said.