Pay raise confuses county

August 11, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

County Administrator Raquel Sanudo was shaking her head this week, wondering if it is true that no good deed goes unpunished.

The county has changed the way it calculates raises for its employees, and Ms. Sanudo wanted to make sure everyone knew about it.

She instructed the payroll office to put a note on the Aug. 5 paychecks reminding everyone of the change. "This pay includes a 3 percent cost of living adjustment since July 11," the note read.

Instead of sharing excitement about receiving cost of living raises, employees felt cheated. They had expected to see the raises reflected in their July 22 pay checks. What happened to the first 10 days of the month, they wanted to know.

No one seemed to know for sure.

Employees attempting to find out received a variety of explanations. The most common rumor was that there was a problem with the wording of the pay raise bill and that, as a result, the raise took effect July 11 -- the first full pay period of the new fiscal year -- rather than on July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

"It was a bonehead mistake, and they aren't going to fix it," one employee said. "I think it's disgraceful -- and little cheap."

"I don't know why it happened," another said. "I just know everybody in my department is upset. People say it's business as usual and aren't complaining."

County Executive Charles I. Ecker and County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray don't receive cost of living increases, so there was no message on their pay checks. Both thought the raise took effect July 1.

"It's news to me," Mr. Ecker said, when told the raise took effect later. "My understanding is that [the date of the raise] was July 1. We have to see the legislation and check and see what can be done."

"I, too, was under the impression that it was to start July 1," Mr. Gray said. "I think county employees should still be able to recover that amount."

Personnel administrator P. William Herndon said he assumed the effective date of cost of living raises always had been the beginning of a pay period, rather than the beginning of the fiscal year.

Last January, for example, employees received a 2.5 increase -- their first cost of living increase in 2 1/2 years -- at the beginning of the first full pay period after Jan. 1, rather than on the first day of the year. In January, however, there were no employee complaints.

"There was a lot of anticipation about the July pay raise," Mr. Herndon said, suggesting that might be the reason people reacted differently this time.

Another difference is that the county did not put a notice in the January pay check.

Ms. Sanudo is aghast at the confusion. The change in the way raises are calculated was discussed in a public hearing this spring and she has since sent out letters about it and written an article about it in the employee newsletter.

The reason for the new policy is that the payroll office was finding it too difficult to compute salaries that change during a pay period, Ms. Sanudo said. This year, for example, the department would have had to calculate pay checks based on four days at the old rate and six days at the new one.

That might not seem like a big deal to outsiders, but the finance department had to type the pay change manually into a computer for each of the county's 1,784 employees, Ms. Sanudo said.

Dale B. Neubert, deputy director of the Department of Finance, confessed: "We're the bad guys."

"We're having to administer a lot more with a lot less people," she said. "This is not the private sector. Employees have multiple schedules and every department is different."

The difficult part was getting started, she said. Now that the county has begun calculating raises for full pay periods rather than partial ones, "it will flow that way every year afterward," Ms. Neubert said.

Mr. Gray is angry that "a data processing program that was supposed to be up and running isn't," he said.

"The county didn't have the program and now employees are disadvantaged because the right program was not in place. They shouldn't have to suffer because of a program. It needs to be made up."

Mr. Gray said he has asked the county auditor to look into the situation.

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