At its Oct. 13 meeting, the Boone County Council voted to increase wages of full-time Boone County employees, elected county officials and part-time county department heads by two percent.
The council, while determining a salary ordinance, was forced to decide whether to increase county employee wages during a time of financial uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recent local income tax data revealed the county was not stymied as much as anticipated by the pandemic in 2020, according to county officials, but the county in the future may be confronted with the probability of local income tax shortfalls in future years, which are currently projected to be as high as approximately 10 percent in 2022, according to Susan Cowen, a manager at Baker Tilly US, LLP, a public consulting firm. Some council members expressed concern for being able to maintain increased county employee wages should such events occur.
But some county officials, such as Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen, said the council needed to support its employees, whom he called the county’s most valuable asset. Nielsen and others in his office have repeatedly called for increased wages to remain competitive with other law-enforcement agencies in the county. Currently, they say, other law-enforcement departments in the county can entice Boone County Sheriff’s Office employees significantly more pay than the BCSO can. Previously, Nielsen had said he believed a decision to not increase wages would have sent the wrong message to county employees.
After multiple hours of discussion, the council moved to increase wages by two percent. An initial motion to increase wages by three percent failed when council members Don Lamb, Marcia Wilhoite and John Riner voted against the measure. Council members Kevin Van Horn and Jennifer Hostetter voted in favor of the motion. The two percent raise was approved unanimously, and is set to begin in January.
“We are appreciative of any raise,” Boone County Prosecutor Kent Eastwood said. “I am concerned that we want to keep up with certain municipalities to ensure we keep the best and the brightest within our community. Over the years, our salaries have not done that – so much so that we spent thousands of dollars on salary surveys. We now know that financially the county is significantly better off even with two percent raises than we were the same time last year.”