Public employees paid through the Montgomery County payroll system received $3.2 million in bonuses in lieu of raises in 2012, mostly as supplemental longevity pay and merit awards.
The smallest award was $104 and the largest $27,200, according to a Dayton Daily News analysis of payroll data from the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office. The database included employees who work for elected county officials and other agencies such as Five Rivers MetroParks, the Public Defender’s Commission and Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County.
Elected county officials alone awarded one-time payments totalling nearly $2.9 million, about $200,000 more than in 2011. Most officials said their employees had not received raises for several years. The supplemental payments were a one time expense unlike raises, which can exponentially increase over the years.
“We truly appreciate our employees’ dedication to providing essential services to our citizens, but for several years, declining revenues and other budget challenges did not allow us to provide raises,” said Montgomery County Commission President Dan Foley, adding the lump sum payments were given in lieu of raises.
It’s a practice seen around state, Cheryl Subler, policy director for the County Commission Association of Ohio said.
“For the past four to six years many public officials couldn’t afford to give raises. As revenues have brightened, I think they still have been hesitant to give across the board raises,” she said.
Lump sum payments are what the name implies, a payment over and above the employee’s annual salary. Longevity payments differ in that a percentage — from the employee and employer — goes into the employee’s Public Employee Retirement System account.
The just more than $1.7 million in longevity payments largely went to staff of the County Auditor, the Engineer’s Office, Domestic Relations Court, the Prosecutor, Coroner, the Sheriff’s Office, Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab and Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County.
Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias Heck Jr. awarded longevity totalling $792,000 to 110 employees, including 13 who got more than $10,000 each. The largest award, a $27,200 payment, to Montgomery County’s chief criminal prosecutor, included a $10,000 back payment for 2011 that was not paid until 2012 do to an oversight, Greg Flannagan, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office said.
In comparison, employees of Public Health got longevity payments of $400 each.
“We have used budget savings to give one time Longevity Supplemental Pay, solely based on merit, in an effort to retain as many of our qualified, experienced assistant prosecutors as possible, many of whom are saddled with huge law school loans,” Heck said.
Lump sum payments for 2,525 public employees ranged from $6,905 — part of a voluntary separation agreement for a Juvenile Court employee — down to $104. At least 317 employees received $1,000 or more. Some of the awards— namely $400 to 1,482 County Commission employees and $500 for nearly 400 Montgomery County Sheriff’s staff members were part of union negotiated agreements.
Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer said he doesn’t consider the one-time payments a bonus. About 134 of his civilian employees gave up longevity as part of arbitration in 2012 to get the $500 lump sum, while 148 sheriff’s emplyees got both.
“It saved us a tremendous amount of money in the long run,” Plummer said.
Employees of the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab received lump sum payments totalling $32,850 and $14,2150 in longevity.
“I’m desperately trying to keep a reasonable competitive wage for our scientists,” Ken Betz, director of the crime lab said. “I do not call it a bonus. We are trying to be competitive in our market and we’re not.”
Montgomery County Juvenile Court Administrative Judge Nick Kuntz awarded “lump-sum merit allocations” ranging from $3,987 to $246. The court hadn’t awarded raises since 2009, said court administrator Jim Cole. The one-time payments totalled $441,569, up from $393,000 in 2011.
“Even with the allocations, we returned $860,000 to the county to go back into the General Fund,” Cole said.
Treasurer Carolyn Rice said merit awards of $53,214 given to her staff were based on performance. Goals for employees were set in January, reviewed monthly and evaluated at year end.
“We have raised the bar and they met the challenge,” Rice said. “I can look our taxpayers in the eye and say I feel we run a top-notch operation. We’re good stewards of the public money.”
Montgomery County Clerk of Courts Gregory A. Brush gave lump sum payments of $20,853, including a more than $6,000 in vacation buyout. Mangers, who are on call nights and weekends and who must travel between offices, also got a $900 cell phone stipend.
“We don’t issue cell phones,” Brush said. “If I call them, they better answer the phone.”