Oktibbeha supervisors approved pay increases for six of the county’s 37 road employees with a 3-1 vote at Monday’s meeting after Road Manager Fred Hal Baggett made the suggestion based on job performances that he said deserved a raise.
Supervisors Orlando Trainer of District 2, Joe Williams of District 5 and Board President John Montgomery of District 1 voted for the pay raises while District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller voted against them. District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard was absent.
Miller said she wanted to table the proposed raises until a future meeting and task County Administrator Emily Garrard with compiling data on every road employee’s wages and how long they have worked for the county.
The six employees who received raises were not all making the same amount of money before the vote, and they all received different amounts of additional pay.
Miller told The Dispatch she believes the county should have a system in place for performance evaluations for its employees in order to determine when they deserve a raise. She also said she thought Baggett’s justifications for the proposed increases, such as employees’ good attendance records and dedication to their jobs, were insufficient.
“To me, that’s somebody that’s doing their job,” Miller said. “That’s not a performance increase.”
Montgomery said he did not have a problem with tabling the motion but supported the raises and would have supported more than the ones Baggett proposed.
In August, the board authorized a study of the county’s salaries and payment plans from the Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development, a service and research organization at Mississippi State University that works with local governments to make them more efficient. The study should be complete in early 2021.
About 30 percent of the road department’s annual budget is employee salaries, Garrard said. The board has voted annually to raise road employee salaries by 3 percent for the past several years.
Garrard said the board should be cautious when considering raises for county employees as a whole. The county has about 175 employees.
“At some point, everybody in the county is going to be making way too much money and the county can’t afford it,” she said.
The county has a policy that department heads must submit recommendations for individual pay raises on or before July 1 each year, according to county documents.
Miller said granting performance-based raises without a system in place to measure performance could open the door to legal action against the county from employees who do not get raises but feel they are outperforming employees who do. Montgomery is a lawyer and said he does not see this as an issue.
“(Their) boss came to us as a board to ask for raises for those people,” he said. “I don’t see any room for a lawsuit.”
Montgomery said he does not have a problem with the idea of a countywide employee evaluation system. Trainer told The Dispatch he thinks evaluations are necessary in addition to trusting department heads’ assessment of their employees’ performances.
“I think we need to look at the performance base (and) be sure to pay competitive salaries,” he said.
County support for city projects
Later, the supervisors voted unanimously in support of Starkville’s efforts to secure state funding for two potential projects that the board of aldermen decided to pursue in October.
The aldermen started discussing potential projects at the encouragement of State Rep. Rob Roberson (R-Starkville), who is also the attorney for the county supervisors. They agreed to ask for funding to build a new library, since the current one is about 60 years old, and to extend both Hospital Road and Stark Road to create easier access to both Highway 25 and OCH Regional Medical Center.
Both projects are under the city’s jurisdiction. The county contributes to the library’s funding, but the city owns the land and the building and therefore has the authority over both.
Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill said the library project, the city’s preferred endeavor, would be a service to the entire county.
“This would be something that would service all our residents who don’t have access to the internet and computers,” she said.
The supervisors also voted unanimously to extend the county’s curfew, from midnight to 4 a.m., until the next meeting on Dec. 21.
The board did not vote to renew the protective face mask requirement, in place since the previous meeting on Nov. 16, but Oktibbeha County is one of the counties under Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves’ mask mandate assigned to individual counties in which COVID-19 coronavirus cases are continuing to spike. Reeves added Oktibbeha to the list of 54 counties on Dec. 1.
Tess Vrbin was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.
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