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Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder made it clear Monday he did not like Mayor Ben McAdams' proposal to cut employee retirement benefits while giving a 2.5 percent wage hike next year.

Standing on a raised walkway above the sunken council chambers where McAdams was addressing an overflow crowd of county employees, Winder pointed his finger at the mayor, denying McAdams' earlier assertion the sheriff had supported the elimination of the county's 3 percent contribution to employees' 401k plans.

"I'm not trying to foment rebellion, but we need a realistic discussion [of this] well before the budget," Winder added, saying he and the mayor had talked only about using $9.4 million from the extension of tax collections from an expiring jail-construction bond to pay for spiraling criminal-justice system expenses.

McAdams replied tersely that the two had, indeed, discussed the compensation plan in a two-hour conversation Oct. 19, the eve of the mayor's 2016 budget speech in which the proposal was disclosed.

Then he appeared to connect the compensation cut to increased criminal-justice spending. With 2016 county revenues projected to be basically flat despite a strong economy, McAdams said the county couldn't afford to address the criminal-justice issue without spending reductions or a tax increase.

"I'm not willing to propose a tax increase this year," McAdams said. "It's up to the County Council, but I don't suspect they do either."

The mayor's apparent linkage of criminal-justice funding and employee-compensation levels caused heartburn for District Attorney Sim Gill.

Like Winder, Gill said he had not been party to any discussions connecting the issues, which were completely separate, and that he would never support increasing criminal-justice funding "on the backs of county employees."

McAdams contended throughout the hourlong meeting (another will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the County Government Center) that employees will not be hurt as much as it appears.

He and Human Resources Director Michael Ongkiko explained that the county is changing its compensation structure to make it more competitive long term with the private sector and to end internal inequities that employees have long complained about.

They noted that a compensation study revealed county employee wages were subpar, but their benefits were above average and that county employees favored more pay. Within the pay structure, they added, a salary "compression" issue created situations where newcomers sometimes earned more than veterans with pay ceilings.

Employees can still build for their retirement by putting their raises into their 401k accounts, McAdams said, arguing the 0.5 percent overall decline would be lessened by the fact that higher salaries at the end of long-term employees' careers lead to higher monthly retirement payments.

In addition, $1 million will be used to address compression issues, of significant concern to county employees, three-quarters of whom are impacted by this proposed shift.

Employees are not happy. Many in the crowd, which filled half of the government center's lobby outside the packed council chambers, applauded after Winder's pointed remarks, as well as a speech by McKenzie Scott, a younger employee who works in an Aging and Adult Services' Outreach program.

"This is not the future I choose," Scott said, playing on a theme of the McAdams administration as she detailed how the benefit cut penalized her for investing early in a retirement account.

"This directly impacts my living," to the tune of about $58,000, she added.

Another county employee questioned why the public ­­— rather than employees ­­­­— shouldn't bear more of the criminal-justice costs.

McAdams responded that the county can't do everything.

"I would love to do it all, but we can't this year unless we raise taxes. I'm not willing to do that," he said. "A tax increase would be a last resort — and we're not there yet."

While the election was never mentioned, the showdown in the Salt Lake City mayor's race lingered in the background of the discussion. McAdams has endorsed incumbent Ralph Becker and, in a campaign ad, questioned challenger Jackie Biskupski's leadership skills and vision. Biskupski works as a high-ranking administrator for Winder, and he has endorsed her.