Winnebago County Board may boost pay by $2.9 million to become a more competitive employer. Here's what we know

·6 min read

OSHKOSH ‒ The Winnebago County Board is set to vote Tuesday night on a resolution to overhaul the county's wage structure that hopes will put the county in a more competitive position in recruiting and retaining its employees.

The county hired McGrath Human Resources Group last year to study the county's pay structure and make recommendations on how to better "attract and retain" employees.

The study found the salary offered to 33% of the positions across the county was below the average market minimum for similar positions. Now, the county board will vote on a new wage structure that will impact wage scales in all positions across the county.

The plan could be passed by a simple majority vote Tuesday by the Winnebago County board during its 6 p.m. meeting at the Winnebago County Courthouse, 415 Jackson St.

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Why is Winnebago County looking to change its wage structure?

Winnebago County has attempted to change its wage structure in the last 10 years, including asking McGrath Human Resources Group to conduct a similar wage study in 2016. However, the board took no action after the study at that time.

County Executive Jon Doemel said the changes to the wage structure are vital to ensuring the government can maintain a healthy workforce and provide its services across the county.

"We want to make sure (Winnebago County) is a place where people can have careers again," Doemel said during a special county board meeting on March 7.

Dale Knapp, the director of research and analytics for the Wisconsin Counties Association, said many counties across the state are starting similar processes in changing their wages to be more attractive to the workforce.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Wisconsin's unemployment rate sits at just 2.9%, which Knapp called a historic low. With a low labor force, employers are having to offer more to fill job openings.

"If you want to retain and attract workers, you may have to adjust the pay and benefit structures," Knapp said.

Currently, Winnebago County has 100 vacancies it is hoping to fill, according to Mike Collard, the county's director of administration.

One change for the wage scale increases the minimum wage in the county from $15.31 per hour to $16.03. Collard said raising the floor of the wage scale will raise other wages across the board, but it's especially important for open jobs at Parkview Health Center, where many of the open positions fall in that minimum wage category.

"It's important we focus on offering attractive wages," Collard said.

How will this affect current employees?

Although some of the focus for changing the wage structure has to do with recruiting more workers to the county, the proposal will impact the pay of current employees.

Collard said one of the reasons wages in the county went down was because of "in-range compression" for the jobs. Each position has a range of what pay rate employees could get, designed to have employees who stay longer have their wages increase in that range. However, many long-term employees did not see their wages increase along the range.

Collard said the new wage structure would "re-slot" employees into different ranges where the minimum pay has increased. He said this will help the county retain its staff because long-term employees will be paid more appropriately and new employees can see there is movement along the pay range.

The new wage structure would give a raise to nearly 85% of county employees, Collard said.

Mark Habeck, the county's Director of Human Resources, said those increased wages will take effect at the beginning of the county's next pay period if the new structure is approved.

What is this costing the county?

The county projects the pay adjustments from this resolution will add just over $2.9 million to the county's labor costs in the annual budget.

Collard said because the pay adjustments would happen partway through the year, the impact on the 2023 budget will be closer to $2.5 million for this current year. Starting in 2024, the total labor costs in the budget will be the entire $2.9 million.

The county also has $2 million available to transfer from a salary contingency fund to cover some of the labor costs across the county's departments, according to the resolution.

Will there be any future changes?

Leaders in Winnebago County hope this wage structure change is just a first step in altering how the county compensates employees.

The county also plans to propose other adjustments later this year that could include reviewing how merit pay is given out, Collard said, potentially adding cost-of-living adjustments or changing vacation or paid time-off policies.

Habeck said one way to look at the proposal is this initial plan is designed to give workers a more appropriate starting point, then future resolutions give employees the pay adjustments or increases that ensure the county does not have its wages fall below the average market price.

Collard said he hopes the county will propose another resolution about compensation this summer.

What are county board members saying?

After a presentation of its study to the county board, some board supervisors had questions.

Several supervisors questioned the fact the executive assistant position would see an increase in salary of almost $24,000 per year, as the range for the position would increase to a minimum of $95,000.

The hiring of Doemel's assistant, Ethan Hollenberger, in 2021 created early friction between Doemel and some county board members after he hired Hollenberger without board permission as a temporary "project chief of staff." Hollenberger was then hired full time in July 2021. Hollenberger also has been the target of two workplace harassment complaints, including one in Winnebago County in 2022.

Supervisor Steven Binder asked Doemel during the board's March 7 special meeting what justified changing the salary grade for the executive assistant position. Doemel said no adjustments came from his office, only from the study from McGrath and Associates.

McGrath CEO Victoria McGrath addressed the question over Zoom during the county board meeting, saying the job's responsibilities and skills required "changed drastically" from when they previously reviewed the county's structure in 2016.

Collard said the county board could still debate or add amendments on specific positions, but that the goal of the new wage structure is not to focus on the merit of certain employees.

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Contact Bremen Keasey at 920-570-5614 or Follow him on Twitter at @Keasinho.

This article originally appeared on Oshkosh Northwestern: Winnebago County board to vote on proposal to overhaul employee wages