ROCKLAND, Maine — Divided Knox County commissioners voted Tuesday afternoon to reinstate pay raises for employees that amounted to as much as 40 percent.
Commissioner Carol Maines of Rockland said that the additional raises would not be much greater than the cost of legal expenses the county would incur to defend lawsuits challenging the March 15 vote that capped raises at 9 percent. That vote reversed a December 2011 vote that had granted the larger pay increases in the first place.
Maines maintained on Tuesday that the increases were not pay raises but were wage adjustments to conform to a pay study commissioned by commissioners.
Roger Moody of Camden, chairman of the commissioners, also defended the raises, saying that the county had been discussing the need to bring employees up to par with other similar positions and that the resulting increases were based on the study. Under the study, raises ranged from zero percent to 40 percent.
Moody also said that the cost of litigation likely would be as much as the raises. Several grievances have been filed by employees after the commissioners capped the raises at 9 percent.
Moody asked department heads to find cuts in other areas of their budgets to offset the pay increases. The cost of the additional raises will be $59,138.
Twenty-three people will receive raises in excess of 9 percent.
Commissioner Richard Parent Jr. of Warren voted against the additional raises. He complained that the lack of compromise seen in Washington, D.C., is occurring in Knox County. He said that allowing raises of up to 9 percent with promises of more raises next year for those considered underpaid by the study was a fair compromise.
He also challenged the argument that the increases were not raises.
“A raise by any other name is still a raise,” Parent said.
Commissioners and the budget committee originally voted Dec. 1 to approve a 2012 Knox County budget that included the raises of up to 40 percent. That vote, however, was rescinded after complaints that the Dec. 1 meeting had not been properly publicized.
At the March 15 meeting, town officials from several communities including Thomaston, St. George and Union attended to protest the raises that they argued were excessive.
Union Selectman Greg Grotton attended Tuesday’s meeting and again pleaded with the commissioners not to go back on the vote they took in March in front of a large gathering of residents who turned out to protest the raises.
Grotton said he worked for the county for 14 years — as airport manager — and he never heard of raises of 9 percent.
“If I had gotten 9 percent I would have thought that was fantastic,” Grotton said.
He said that town employees in some towns are not receiving any raises yet they will have to pay taxes to support these raises.
County Administrator Andrew Hart said the Maine Department of Labor already has indicated that the rescinding of raises could be considered an unfair labor practice. He said employees made important decisions such as undertaking home repairs or making purchases based on the new pay rate that began Jan. 1.
The raises include a 40 percent pay increase for Emergency Management Agency Director Ray Sisk. His increase totaled $17,000, bringing his salary to $59,946. Knox County Regional Communications Director Linwood Lothrop’s salary was increased by 24 percent, bringing his annual pay to $66,186. The administrative assistant in the emergency management agency office received a pay raise of 20 percent to $28,922. The deputy treasurer’s salary rose 18 percent to $50,502. Airport Manager Jeffrey Northgraves’ salary rose 16 percent to $58,760. Finance Director Kathy Robinson’s salary was increased 10 percent to $67,350.
The county had commissioned a study last year of the pay and benefits of county employees. The firm of Gary Thornton Associates of Scarborough was paid $22,230 for the study. The study included the pay of all Maine counties except Androscoggin, several local communities and businesses.
At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners also agreed to grant raises to the three elected department heads who were not covered previously under the pay raise plan.
Sheriff Donna Dennison will receive a pay raise of $8,670 to bring her pay up to $68,458.
Probate Judge Carol Emery will receive an increase of $4,235 which is about equal to the cost of training she will be taking for the position. Her pay will increase to $30,616. Register of Probate Elaine Hallett will get a pay raise of $495, bringing her pay to $40,249.