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Pay grades on the agenda

Published:   |   Updated: March 7, 2013 at 04:25 PM

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Former Hernando County Director of Public Safety Mike Nickerson lost his position and was demoted this month to deputy fire chief but did not receive a corresponding decrease in pay.

Nickerson's new title is deputy fire chief and he continues to make $94,411, which is only some $3,500 less than his new boss, Mike Rampino, who was recently promoted to fire chief.

Rampino's pay went up 5 percent, from $93,288 to $97,952.

The seeming discrepancy between pay grades has become an issue for at least two county commissioners, who have directed the county administrator to look into the matter and report back at this Tuesday's board meeting.

Asked whether action will be taken on balancing out salaries due to recent promotions and demotions in county government, County Administrator Len Sossamon said Thursday he was still compiling data.

"It's hard for me to say," Sossamon said of Nickerson's salary. "I think that was the directive that some commissioners had asked us to look into. It's yet to be determined."

Another case: Director of Administrative Services Cheryl Marsden makes $6,000 more than her boss, Chief Procurement Officer Russ Wetherington, whose pay shot up 20 percent to $90,000 last week after he was named one of four new administrative assistants.

Marsden said the county has a promotion policy that kicked in when the county named its new assistant administrators in Wetherington, Budget Manager George Zoettlein, Land Services Director Ron Pianta and Director of Transportation Services Brian Malmberg.

Marsden said the methodology behind which employee receives a pay raise or who gets a decrease is not clear-cut.

She said pay grades are determined by such factors as experience, educational degrees, supervision and decision-making.

"Our job descriptions are all graded and don't go by volume of work," Marsden said.

Budget Manager George Zoettlein said his title has been changed four times in the last six years but his job responsibilities never changed.

This latest 5 percent pay hike is the first during that whole period, he said.

County Commissioner Jim Adkins blames much of the disparity in salaries on a former County Commission-sanctioned 2007 report called The Mercer Study, which a former board used to justify salary increases for scores of employees.

The report said Hernando County lagged behind other municipalities.

"How we correct it without legal action is going to be an interesting situation," Adkins said recently.

County Commissioner Wayne Dukes decided to put the matter on Tuesday's agenda because he believes it is time to re-examine the salary grades and positions of all managers and directors to make sure they are in line with the new management system in place with the four new administrators.

That may mean adjusting job description titles, he said.

"What's happened is we have had people's responsibilities decreased but their salaries have stayed the same," Dukes said. "I think it's time to look at some balance at exactly where we are with some of these salaries."

If the county has a policy to reward employees with higher pay for more job duties than there needs to be a policy that works in reverse, he added.

"Ultimately, that decision should be more in line with the administrator's decision than the policy," Dukes said.

Sossamon assured the board that the pay increases to his four assistants, which are required by personnel policy because of the job promotions, will be "revenue positive" because of streamlining efforts that saved the county some $36,000.

That, he said, is more than enough to pay for the hikes, which totaled $29,000. (352) 544-5290

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