The crux of the ongoing debate about employee compensation for Franklin County government employees has been an increase in wages for officials in departments reporting directly to the county commission.

Commissioner Ann Schroeder this week said that criticism of pay increases for those changing positions and titles is unfounded and noted that several departments had decreased their wages over the past several years.

Other elected officials earlier this month said the title changes for those reporting to the commission has left a sour taste in the mouths of others who work for the county.

Schroeder responded this week by pointing out several departments reporting to the commission have made cuts.

She said the county building department had decreased its staff size by four people over the past several years and saved over $110,000 in salaries alone.

Numbers from five years’ worth of budgets support that claim, but show increases in some other areas.

In 2008, the county building department listed regular full-time employees’ wages of $384,966, with $5,405 for part-time employees. That $390,371 total decreased by about $100,000 to $290,783 in 2011.

This year the department’s budget is $296,383.

The building department is one of several within county government which is headed by an appointed official who reports directly to the county commission.

The Missourian looked at the budgets from 2008 to present because that’s the last time county employees received a pay raise.

Raises in 2008

In 2008, all employees saw a 5.7 percent “cost of living” increase, including elected officials.

Since then, county officials have pledged to hold the line on wages, expenses and taxes.

Schroeder this week defended the county’s various departments and said wages had decreased. In some departments, including those that report to Schroeder and Commissioners Terry Wilson and John Griesheimer, pay has gone up, even though, by Schroeder’s own admission, staff sizes have decreased.

In the county’s custodial department, which is part of facilities maintenance and therefore falls under the supervision of the building department and the commission, wages of $116,049 were reported in 2008.

In 2011, that figure had increased to $141,245 and this year is budgeted slightly higher at $144,146.

Wages in the county counselor’s department also have increased.

The department reported $74,121 in wages in 2008 and $83,516 last year.

This year the budget for the counselor’s wages is $129,136. That pay presumably includes both Counselor Mark Vincent, who became a full-time county employee last year, and Joe Purschke, the county’s assistant counselor.

Across all of the departments reporting to the commission, including pay for the three commissioners themselves, wages have decreased from $4,339,025 a year in 2008 to $4,157,284 in 2011, a $181,741 drop.

Those departments include the commission, the building department, the custodial division, the county counselor, the health department, planning and zoning, information technologies, emergency management, geographical information systems, 911 addressing and highway operations and administration.

During that time period, the wages for all of the other county offices supported by local sales and property taxes — the family and juvenile courts, child support, the juvenile diversion grants, 911 dispatching, the county jail and the assessor, clerk, treasurer, auditor, collector, prosecuting attorney, public administrator, recorder, sheriff and assessor’s offices — went from $7,957,876 to $7,990,282, an increase of $32,406.

That represents a 4.2 percent decrease in departments under the county commission and a 0.4 percent increase in the other county offices.

Other Offices Cut Wages

Wages in the offices of many other county elected officeholders have decreased since 2008, in some cases more than the 4.2 percent cut in offices reporting to the commission.

Five years ago, Clerk Debbie Door’s office spent $407,317 on wages. Last year the reported figure was $361,732, down 11.2 percent.

Auditor Tammy Vemmer’s office has decreased wages from $102,575 in 2008 to $95,739, down 6.7 percent. Vemmer employs one deputy in her office. In 2008, she was the deputy serving under then-Auditor Ralph Sudholt.

Collector Linda Emmons’ office spent $255,737 on wages in 2008 and $250,666 in 2011, down 2 percent.

Public Administrator Carol Eckelkamp’s office decreased wages from $96,265 to $95,530 from 2008-2011, down 0.8 percent.

In Recorder Sharon Birkman’s office, wages dropped from $304,895 to $268,319 over the same period, down 12 percent.

In Assessor Tom Copeland’s office, wages dropped from $689,983 to $580,606 from 2008-2011, down 15.9 percent.

Increase Mostly From Law Enforcement

The increase among other county offices overall appears to be from an additional $40,000-plus spent on juvenile services as well as additional law enforcement positions first budgeted in 2010 as grant-funded positions.

The sheriff’s department decreased salaries as well from $4,863,742 in 2008 to $4,852,039 in 2011.

Those wages are spent on sheriff’s deputies, jail personnel and 911 dispatchers.

The law enforcement grant positions didn’t exist in 2008, however.

In 2011, those positions cost the county $269,289.

Wages Steady, but Contract Costly

Schroeder said the county’s IT department had decreased from 10 people to six and had saved the county roughly $3,500 a month by eliminating redundant or unused telephone and fax lines and negotiated a $5,000 credit from one of the service providers.

Wages in that department, which include IT, GIS and 911 addressing, were $257,218 in 2008. In 2011, $238,227 in wages were reported.

This year the three departments are budgeted for $276,493 for employee wages — up $38,266 from last year.

Auditor Tammy Vemmer noted that the county has entered into a contractual agreement with AQM, a computer support company, to provide IT services to the county in addition to those provided by the three internal departments.

That contract costs the county $45,432 a year, she said.

Highway Department Costs Steady

Schroeder also said the county highway department had reduced salaries by $45-50,000 over the past two years. The actual figure from 2009 to 2011 is even higher — almost $60,000 — but this year’s budgeted amount is up over $20,000 from last year.

In 2008, the department listed $2,226,011 in wages for operations and $369,020 for administration.

In 2009, the department reported $2,246,493 for operational wages and $369,196 for administration.

In 2010, highway operations cost the county $2,123,887. Another $370,788 was spent paying administrators.

Last year operations spent $2,211,547 for wages and $344,750 for administration.

The department had to reallocate roughly $40,000 from operations to pay administrators in the highway department last year, according to a document obtained by The Missourian.

According to that form, signed by all three county commissioners, the redistribution was needed because former Public Works Director Rich Wilson remained on the county payroll through December, even though he left the county two to three months earlier and to pay former Highway Administrator Steve Carey, who was hired on a part-time basis to advise Eva Gadcke, who was promoted to highway administrator to replace Wilson.

This year’s budget calls for $2,249,934 for operations wages and $329,954 for administration, $23,591 higher than 2011.

This year the county hired a full-time highway engineer, Joe Feldmann.

Other Offices

In addition to the custodial division, IT department, building department, highway department counselor’s office, several other offices report to the commission, including the health department, office of emergency management and planning and zoning.

In 2008, the county’s planning and zoning department reported $134,919 spent on wages. Last year, that figure was $115,078. This year’s budgeted figure is $113,260.

In the county’s emergency management agency, $92,596 was spent in 2008. That figure decreased over the past several years with the termination of former EMA Director Bob Dopp. In 2011, $72,488 in wages were reported.

This year the two-person agency has $73,816 budgeted for wages.

The amount budgeted for contractual services has increased by roughly $6,500 from last year. The county has no 911 director and has contracted with Vince Zagarri, a St. Louis County-based engineer, to fill the role on an interim basis.

Dopp previously served as both EMA and 911 director. Current EMA Director Abe Cook was not hired to fulfill the dual roles, however.