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Kanawha County approves across-the-board pay raises

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County commissioners approved the first across-the-board pay raise for county employees in six years on Thursday night.

Although some merit raises were given in 2008, and a few elected officials have juggled their budgets to give some raises over the past couple of years, county employees have not had a raise that covered all of them since 2006.

At the meeting Thursday, Commissioners Kent Carper, Dave Hardy and Hoppy Shores voted unanimously to give a $1,000 raise to each county employee effective Sept. 1. The raises will cost the county about $531,000.

Hardy said the cost of living in West Virginia has gone up by almost 5.7 percent since 2008, while utilities have gone up a staggering 67.45 percent. "Today, you'd need $1.06 to buy what you could buy for $1 in 2008," Hardy said.

Commissioners discussed whether to give an across-the-board raise or base the raise on percentages. County officials calculated the cost of a 2 percent raise at $449,000, a 2.5 percent raise at $561,000 and a 3 percent raise at $673,000.

While a raise based on percentages would give more money to employees with higher salaries, an across-the-board raise would constitute a bigger increase for employees with lower incomes.

Shores said he wasn't worried about employees who were near the top of the pay scale. He said he favored an across-the-board raise to give more money to lower-earning employees who probably need the money more.

Hardy and Carper agreed, quickly voting on what could have been a drawn-out argument over how the raises should be handled. Under state law, elected officials have the discretion to dole out the raises in any manner they see fit.

Also Thursday, commissioners saved the town of Pratt from at least one looming lawsuit. Jeff Fleck, executive director of the West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board, said the retirement board was prepared to sue the town today for failing to pay more than $36,000 in overdue retirement contributions for employees of the Pratt water plant.

The money includes about $4,000 deducted from employees' paychecks, but never submitted to the state.

Pratt Mayor Gary Fields said he wasn't sure how officials for the water plant got so far behind on the retirement contributions, but said the water system didn't have any money, and couldn't pay the $36,000.

"We don't want to sue the town of Pratt," Jeaneen Legato, the retirement board's attorney, told county commissioners. "We were hoping this [meeting] would be some kind of Hail Mary pass to you guys to bail them out."

County commissioners were unwilling to pay Pratt's entire debt to the retirement board. But they did vote to pay $5,000 to the board if board members would agree not to sue until county officials can work out some kind of plan for Pratt to repay the debt.

Commissioners hope to have a plan in place by their next meeting on Sept. 6.

Also Thursday, commissioners learned that the Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority will use a $2 million federal grant to buy eight new buses, which will be fitted with engines that burn compressed natural gas.

KRT General Manager Denny Dawson said it will cost about $50,000 more per bus to install the natural gas-burning engines, but that the buses will pay for themselves through reduced fuel costs. Natural gas is cheaper than diesel fuel.

Transportation officials believe the buses will pay for themselves in less than four years. A bus has a 10 to 12 year life span.

Dawson said there is not currently a natural gas fueling station in the county, but expects one or more to be built within the next few months.

County officials hope to be at the forefront of adopting natural gas vehicles. Last week, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced the state would be including some natural gas-powered vehicles in its 2013 fleet.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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