Commissioners wary of payroll rule

PARKERSBURG – Bearing down on the last few weeks of Wood County’s budget year, county commissioners want to take a hard look at the potential of meeting the projected carryover.

The commissioners asked County Administrator Marty Seufer to put the matter on their agenda next week after being handed a 1976 attorney general’s opinion that addresses the commission’s authority, or lack of authority, in fixing wages of deputies or employees.

During administrative reports at Monday’s meeting, county administrator Marty Seufer said the sheriff and sheriff’s tax deputy Bob Tranquill notified him they plan to proceed with payroll changes this month as planned.

“I was told the sheriff wants to be cooperative and compromise, but the county commission has no authority on pay raises and they will proceed with the raises they planned to give this month. They feel they can do it without the county commission signing off on it,” Seufer said.

The commissioners met last week with Tranquill and Sheriff Ken Merritt after the commissioners earlier refused to sign off on pay changes for some tax office employees.

“They have the funds available in their existing budget to do this,” County Clerk Mark Rhodes told the commissioners.

The commissioners asked the sheriff to hold off giving the increases until the new budget year starts July 1.

“We have the funds in our budget; we are not asking for additional money. This is for compensation of additional duties which are being performed now by these employees,” Tranquill told commissioners at last week’s meeting.

Tranquill said after a higher paid employee left her position recently, others assumed additional duties and the office was also trying to bring up the salaries of some of the lower paid personnel in the office, which Tranquill pointed out the county commissioners had earlier urged officials to consider doing.

Seven employees’ salaries would be affected by the proposed changes.

“Why is it brought to us to sign if we don’t have any authority. I think we need to have (Prosecutor) Jason (Wharton) look at it,” Commissioner Steve Gainer said.

The attorney general’s opinion, from 1976, states “County commission has no authority to fix the compensation of a deputy, assistant or employee of a named county official.” This applies to non-Civil Service compensated employees.

The opinion said it is up to the county officials to determine the appropriate compensation of their own employees as long as it does not exceed the total personnel budget they have been allocated.

The total amount of money is approved by the county commission when the budget is set. Case law states the commission does not have to approve changes in compensation as long as the official is not exceeding their budget.

“But the auditors say we have to follow our policies and this is our policy,” Commissioner Blair Couch said about the commission’s review procedures.

“I think the county commission needs to be made aware of the changes because you are the fiscal agent, but if he’s not exceeding his appropriation, he can do this,” Rhodes said.

“Next year at budget time we should just cut every line item so we have everything come before us,” Couch said, adding if the commission wants to consult legal counsel on the matter; they should probably employ outside counsel.

“We used to impose a spending freeze at the end of the fiscal year,” Couch told fellow commissioners.

“We’ve been told we are not going to make the ending balance,” Gainer said.

“It’s going to be tight,” Rhodes reiterated.

“This is like a tug of war,” Couch said. “There’s a constant poking.”

“It’s not the way it should be, it’s not team play,” commission President Wayne Dunn said.

Commissioners said they were reluctant to sign off on any pay changes until they know what the ending balance is going to be.