CHENANGO COUNTY – One week after supervisors signed a new union contract with county workers, signs of a consequential ripple effect in the county’s payroll are becoming more apparent.
The concern came to light at a meeting of the Chenango County Personnel Committee on Wednesday, when officials entertained a wage increase request from Community Services Director Liz Warneck.
According to Warneck, employees’ new contract increases pay for some union employees beyond that of their direct supervisors, meaning many of Community Services’ program coordinators, who are not eligible union members, are now being paid less than the people they oversee.
The revamped contractual agreement between the county and the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) signed last week extends the union’s existing contract through the end of 2024. While the previous contract wasn’t set to expire until December 2023, the revised contract allows for wage increases and starting salaries that give the county more teeth in the local job market.
Terms of the agreement call for a $2 per hour increase to the current base hourly wages for all Chenango County CSEA employees, amounting to about $3,000 per employee per year. Additionally, employees’ annual raise will increase from two percent under the previous contract, to 4 percent under terms of the new one.
All told, the contract warrants an $800,000 increase for county personnel, according to the Chenango County Treasurer’s Office.
While the county said the new deal is great for attracting new employees for its short-staffed departments, the agreement also distorted the pay gap between union employees and some higher-ups, and that could be troublesome for the county’s 2023 budget.
In the case of Community Services, Warneck said terms of the new contract mean mental health social workers would receive a $3,000 pay cut for a promotion.
Warneck requested a nearly $2,200 raise for Community Service program coordinators in order to broaden the pay gap between them and the highest paid social worker.
“We want to get them above the highest paid senior social worker position so that, in terms of supervisors, they won't be making less than the people they supervise,” she said.
What’s more, Warneck, whose position is not included in the CSEA union, requested a raise for herself to maintain a pay gap between her job and the highest paid program coordinator.
Community Service isn’t the only county agency adjusting to a fresh CSEA contract. Other departments are facing similar challenges, according to Chenango County Board of Supervisors Chairman George Seneck, who sat in on Wednesday’s personnel committee meeting.
“We have other people who are in similar positions who are part of the [county’s] compensation schedule who are not part of the CSEA, and they were looking at a $50,000 bottom line there,” said Seneck, noting that the county had factored in pay increases for lower level employees in most departments. “I don’t believe these were looked at.”
“I’m aware of a couple other situations that are similar to this,” he added. “[Warneck] may be the first person coming here, but I do expect at least two more that I know of.”
Any pay increase would need approval of the Chenango County Board of Supervisors, and it could be a tough sell if it means increasing the local share and placing more burden on local taxpayers. The personnel committee has suggested exploring possible state and federal grant opportunities to help fund wage increases.
“That’s the concern I have, is how much can the local share take?” said Personnel Committee member Robert Jeffrey (Norwich). “I know this is going to be a tough one.”
Seneck says the county will continue working with its budgetary office as it deals with the issue. He anticipates that the Chenango County Board of Supervisors will pass a 2023 budget in January before proposing changes to the compensation plan for county employees in supervisory positions.
Personnel committee members referred the matter to the county’s finance committee, which meets on Thursday. Changes to any county department budget will be scrutinized by the finance committee before being adopted into next year’s county budget.