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On second thought, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams thought better of his proposal to trim most county employees' compensation packages next year, largely by eliminating the county's contribution to their retirement plans.
The mayor told the County Council on Tuesday he reconsidered his original proposal discussed in a meeting a day earlier with county employees. Employees including Sheriff Jim Winder and District Attorney Sim Gill disliked his plan to eliminate the county's 3 percent contribution to 401(k) plans while giving workers a 2.5 percent wage increase.
"I thought [the mix] was fair, but the employees didn't think so," McAdams acknowledged, telling the council of four changes to his 2016 budget proposal that he thinks will assuage workers' worries.
It's a group he has to pay heed to. Three-quarters of the county's 3,700 employees would be impacted, many with decades of service at all levels of the county hierarchy. McAdams himself is affected since he also has earlier years of government service as a Salt Lake City employee and a state senator.
"I said I would listen," he said, contending his adjustments "show respect to [the employees] for the work they do."
The four changes McAdams recommended to the council were:
• Raise employees' base pay by 3 percent next year instead of the previously budgeted 2.5 percent. That will cost about $1.2 million. The mayor said $400,000 could be drawn from a surplus fund, but the other $800,000 would have to come from cuts in the sheriff's, district attorney's and mayor's offices.
"It will cause the sheriff, the D.A. and me to go back to the drawing board," McAdams said.
• Instead of eliminating the 3 percent county contribution, McAdams will phase it out over two years. The county would put in just 1.5 percent next year and none in 2017.
In addition to the 401(k) plans, county employees are eligible for retirement benefits equal to 2 percent of their salary for each year worked, up to 30 years.
"We believe our salaries are low and retirement benefits are very high," McAdams said, sticking to his position that the county's compensation must be restructured for long-term sustainability and to remain competitive with the private sector. Raising wages and trimming benefits are the way to do that.
"This will phase [the retirement contribution] out next year to give employees time to adjust," he added.
• Forty-one employees who have reached the top of their pay grades will be eligible for the 3 percent raise, where before they weren't.
• A $1 million fund set aside to resolve inequities within the pay-grade system will be dedicated largely to solving "compression" problems involving long-term employees.
McAdams said he discussed his revisions with the district attorney and that Deputy Mayor Lori Bays conferred with the sheriff. They came away convinced that Gill and Winder understood the difficult budget choices and were willing to work through the matter.
"It's not easy but doable," McAdams said.
Gill confirmed later that he discussed the situation with the mayor after Monday's employee meeting, and said he understands the mayor and County Council face tough decisions on a tight budget. McAdams' revised approach, he said, is better than the original suggestion.
"If that means some more belt tightening on issues, I told [the mayor] we would be happy to be part of that process as long as the benefits ran to our employees being appropriately compensated," Gill said. "The focus needs to be on making sure our employees are well taken care of."
Council Chairman Richard Snelgrove thanked the mayor for his "work in this most important area," adding that the compensation proposal "is certainly a work in progress … a lot to digest."
A couple of employee-association representatives said they generally preferred the mayor's new plan to the original one.