HURON – Beadle County commissioners have declared an impasse after months of labor negotiations with representatives of the bargaining unit positions failed to result in an agreement.
According to state law, after the employer has declared an impasse it can request conciliation of the labor dispute by the state Department of Labor and Regulation.
State’s Attorney Mike Moore said the county has been in negotiations over the issues of wages and insurance since April.
In 2015, the county and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees entered into a three-year contract, but left wages open in 2017 and 2018. In April, the union gave notice that in addition to wages it wanted to renegotiate the health insurance part of the contract, Moore said.
Beadle County employees have received more than $110,000 in raises over the last two years, while the county’s growth and consumer price index amounted to under $50,000, he said.
It means employee raises are outpacing county income by a significant amount, said Beadle County Commission Chairman Tom Hansen.
“This obviously is not a sustainable position for Beadle County to be in,” he said in a news release. “Beadle County is aware of the need to maintain quality employees and to compensate them fairly.”
But he said the county is also aware that county residents have one of the highest tax burdens in the state, specifically those taxpayers who live within the city of Huron.
The county is currently in a property tax opt-out for $300,000 a year, Hansen said.
“Based on all our circumstances, what we offered our employees is more than fair,” he said.
The county offered a $75 increase per month on insurance and a 1 percent raise, equating to $34.67 a month or 20 cents per hour, which represents about $85,000 in new money to employees and about a $109.67 a month or $1,316 per year increase per employee, with insurance and wages combined.
Bargaining unit employees are asking for a $200 per month increase on insurance and a 3 percent raise, or $104 per month or 60 cents an hour, equating to $304 a month or $3,648 a year per employee, which represents $240,000 in new money.
Hansen said the county’s rationale for its offer is based on the expected ability to fund wages and benefits to employees. The county had a zero consumer price index increase in 2016 and 2017 and is projected to have a 1 percent increase in 2018.
The one percent CPI equals about $50,000 in increased revenue. In that same period, the county received limited new growth.
In those same years, employees increased their pay by $97 a month in 2016 and by $74 a month in 2017.
While the county received $50,000 in new revenue in those years, employees received about $110,000 in increased wages.
Hansen said the county has taken action to help the situation by implementing a wage scale for new hires and combining or eliminating positions.
He also points to a 2015 wage study that makes it clear that county employees are fairly compensated. In many cases, they are either equal to or exceed wages of similarly situated county employees across the state, he said. The study is available at the county auditor’s office.
“Beadle County strives to take care of its employees as well as keeping taxes down and the budget balanced,” Hansen said.
He said state employees have received minimal raises since 2011. In four of the last seven years they have received no raises, he said.
During the same time, each county employee has received a raise each year, he said.