December 2, 2021

Parsing pay scales

County mulls salary study to address hiring problems

Kevin Conlon/city editor

Cortland County Police Officer Michael Gates uses radar in his patrol vehicle Thursday to check the speed of vehicles on McLean Road in Cortlandville. The county Legislature is discussing how to find solutions to chronic vacancies in some county government jobs.

Over the past year, Cortland County government has seen its job openings stay vacant for months while receiving fewer applications than expected.

Now, the county Legislature will consider hiring a company to analyze salaries to determine if employees are paid adequately for their work.

The Burke Group provides services such as compensation consulting, which will include the review and development of job descriptions, grade levels and salary structures throughout the county.

“We would provide the company with our organizational charts and our job descriptions of management employees,” said Laurie Leonard, personnel officer for the county, “along with input from my department in regards to any particularly hard to recruit positions that we have dealt with over the years.”

The county Legislature’s government operations committee acknowledged that the county has lost employees to retirement and private sectors and nearby counties with higher pay.

“Over the years, I can’t tell you how many people we’ve lost to different counties,” said Republican Conference Leader George Wagner (Lapeer and Marathon). “Because, really, there’s a humongous difference in what they’re paying compared to what we pay. I can go on and on, but I’ve decided it’s a yes from me — it’s got to be done.”

On the county’s website, there are 36 job openings listed. These positions range from wade pool attendant for the highway department, to the public health director position that has been open since March 2020, to a part-time correction officer position that was posted in September 2016.

Although the committee discussed whether they could utilize a county employee or intern to do the analysis, and subsequently avoid the Burke Group’s $8,250 service fee, County Administrator Rob Corpora said the job would be too big for one person to handle.

“From my experience in the past, things that are done in-house — and I apologize for putting this bluntly — have not always gone over well with the Legislature compared to things done outside,” he said at Thursday’s meeting.

Companies with trained professionals would be a better option, Corpora said, and the results would be more accurate than done by a county employee or intern.

“Also, you say that we can’t compete with the private sector? We have to. Otherwise we’re not going to be able to recruit people,” Corpora said. “People that are here can make $20,000 more in the private sector, and they’re not going to stick around for the benefits that are here.”

Retirement benefits and vacation time have been decreasing over the years, according to Corpora. Now, the county is preparing for the next wave of retirees to leave and need replacing.

“This, to me, is the most important issue — the recruitment and retention,” said committee Chair Susan Wilson (DCortland). “We’ll have a great department, and when we lose them it takes years to replace them. We have some now that take work home because they don’t have enough time or enough help — that’s part of the study that we have to learn about.”

Currently, the legislators work alongside Savannah Hempstead, the clerk of the legislature, who assumed the role officially on June 17 two weeks after Eric Mulvilhill resigned. Hempstead’s previous position, deputy clerk of the legislature, sits vacant.

“Savannah needs help, and other employees need help,” Legislator Richard Stock (D-Cortland) said. “Unfortunately, I had a group of people inform me that they didn’t want her to have help. I find that awful — to think that, and not know what she’s doing. I think she does a heck of a good job, just like Eric did, and he needed help.”

It is the county administrator’s responsibility to file the position as vacant before the county can
receive applications.

Mulvihill took on more responsibilities than listed in the clerk of the legislature job description,
according to Legislature Chairman Paul Heider (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton). The committee proceeded to engage in discussion that was not on the planned meeting agenda.

“I don’t want to talk about this — I’d rather talk about it in executive session — because there are other things that we should know about,” Heider said Thursday. “We were not able to even gauge what was going on in the office to help us make a decision whether we needed a full-time, or part-time, or ramping down the office and not allowing it to explode like it had — we were not able to have those discussions to help facilitate this.”

After a half-hour, the committee came to a consensus that Corpora should list the deputy clerk of the legislature position on the county website. It is another position to be reviewed by the Burke Group.

The analysis would be completed and results made available to the county within two months — just in time to include any salary changes before budget season. The committee voted in favor of the proposal, 5-1, to be reviewed and approved by the county attorney to have the Burke Group conduct its study.

Fran Casullo, a partner with Pomeroy, Armstrong & Casullo law firm in Cortland, will assume the county attorney position Monday.

Wilson said the committee will meet again next week to begin what will be an ongoing process. Legislator Linda Jones (UHomer) opposed the proposal. Sandy Price (D-Harford, Virgil) was excused from Thursday’s meeting.