SPENCER, IN – Today’s challenging economic environment has left county governments across Indiana struggling to maintain valuable services while seeing revenues decline.  As a result, county officials are often so involved in tackling their own problems that valuable information which could be shared with others—that can improve efficiency in the long run—rarely happens.  Owen County officials bucked that trend earlier this month by reaching out to their counterparts in Jefferson County, home of the historic City of Madison on the Ohio River.  Owen County Council members Anton Neff, Patty Steward, and Auditor Angie Lawson took a trip to present information to the Jefferson County Council about the project Owen County undertook to overhaul its employee compensation structure.  All three serve on the Owen County Council’s Wages & Salaries Committee.


Councilman Neff noted, “Once in awhile, you have to make time to share what your county is doing and see what other counties are doing too—we can learn from them and they can learn from us.”  Councilwoman Steward added, “I’m encouraged that we developed a system we can share knowing a lot of other counties have the same issues.”


The committee had already thought about travelling to other counties to share what had been done, but had never pursued it until a couple of months ago when Neff was on a family trip in April.  Neff commented, “I had the opportunity to attend one of their Commissioner meetings.  I met several of their officials and I learned that their council president was looking for help with their methods of compensation.  He was very interested in how we addressed that issue; and that led to our visit this month.”


During the trip, information was shared regarding the background and process involved with the project, how it works, how it was implemented, and how it is maintained.  Both a Power Point presentation and a host of documents were presented to the Jefferson County Council so that they might be able to pursue their own project.  Also in attendance were two of Jefferson County’s Commissioners, the Jefferson County Auditor, and the neighboring Switzerland County Auditor.  Jefferson County Council President Bill Hensler noted, “We are facing the same management challenges that were discovered in Owen County.  We are so grateful for Owen County’s willingness to share the results of their hard work.  What has been shared with us will save us many months of discovery and implementation time.  We can now begin the process of building new processes and procedures that will make Jefferson County more efficient and responsible to the tax payer.”


As explained in the presentation, up until four years ago, Owen County Government had an inconsistent method of compensating employees and no written policy or structure.  Issues concerning employee retention, unbalanced pay for job responsibilities, lack of information, inconsistent longevity, lack of processes for determining pay levels and amounts of hours, etc., plagued the council’s regular meetings and budget hearings.  In 2008, a council committee on Wages & Salaries was created and tasked with researching and developing a completely new compensation structure for county employees.


Councilman Neff noted, “We took special care to get input from our employees and department heads, as well as gather data from surrounding counties.  We essentially built a new system from the ground up without hiring an expensive consultant at taxpayer expense.  The resulting system allows for the calculation of employee compensation taking into account factors like job responsibilities, longevity, education, training, and supervisory duties.  A written policy is in place to back that up, guidelines and processes are in place to address changes, and a committee is set up to monitor it.”


Auditor Lawson noted, “One thing I hear over and over again at conferences from other counties is that they have employees who have been with their county for 25 – 30 plus years and when they leave with all those years of knowledge, the new hire is brought in at the same pay as that employee that had to work for all those years to get to that dollar amount.  Everyone always agrees it’s an unfair practice but have not found anything, or been able to put together a plan, to solve the issue.  Many dollars were wasted in the past with employee studies and job description consultants that never changed the system, until the county council said ‘we have to do something’ and they followed through and did it amidst much speculation that it would not amount to any structure.  Counties constantly are sending emails about employee issues related to pay, most do not have longevity in place for their employees and they see a lot of turnover as well as a lot of morale issues.  We have a great county council that really cares about the taxpayers’ dollars and their employees and has done well to balance them both.”


Auditor Lawson continued, “Since implementing the wage structure we have seen a considerable benefit when new employees come to the county.  It has made the payroll process so much easier when trying to figure out what a person should be paid and making sure that they are not overpaid.  We now have a structure in place that has helped tremendously with morale of our employees.  We are able to provide the department heads with the hourly rate for the new hires they may want to bring in, and people are being compensated for getting more education and training.”


The Owen County Wages & Salaries Committee plans to make itself available to Jefferson County officials to answer any questions as they pursue their own project.  Councilman Neff noted, “As time allows, we’ll reach out to other counties so that we may help others in need.  I am glad we could make this trip with no expense to our taxpayers and we extend a big thank you to Jefferson County officials for being great hosts and for their desire and willingness to listen.”

Paid for by Anton Karl Neff personally