SAGUACHE— Claiming merit raises for county deputies was not specifically approved by the Saguache Board of County Commissioners, a single commissioner authorized payroll officials to withhold merit raises authorized by the sheriff, claiming he must specifically request the raises from the board.
Sheriff Dan Warwick said when one employee enquired why his pay raise was missing, he was told that everything over $500 must be approved. “That is only true of cities, not counties,” Warwick commented. “If you had to do that you would never get anything done.”
Warwick says commissioners gave him a budget and told him to stay within it, and he did not overspend in granting the raises.
By using the three percent pay increase everyone received this year for those also working off grant funds, commissioners gave money to persons whose salaries are not a usual part of the payroll, Warwick said. This took money from his budget that was intended to pay the merit increases so that now they cannot be used for that purpose.
“How do I get people’s wages up to where they need to be now without messing up my budget?” Warwick queried. Commissioners criticized him for not using all the money in his budget, Warwick complained, but then refused to authorize the merit raises. He also noted the county has not updated the starting salaries for many employees to match the new minimum wage increase that went into effect this year.
Cyriacks CORA request
Lisa Cyriacks contacted County Co-Administrator Lyn Zimmer-Lambert last month by email and requested a copy of anything commissioners were using to justify rejecting the pay raise. Lambert first sent her a condensed version of two statutes that applied to the situation, one stating that “the board shall approve the compensation for the undersheriff and deputy sheriffs appointed by the sheriff.”
Zimmer told Cyriacks the two statutes came from the county’s policy manual.
Cyriacks pointed out that more specifically, CRS 30-2-106 reads: “In all counties the salaries of the undersheriff and deputy sheriff SHALL be fixed by the sheriff, with the approval of the board of county commissioners.” The emphasis is quite different, she wrote Zimmer.
As a follow-up to her initial CORA request, Cyriacks requested additional information, including a copy of the 2016 Saguache County Policies and Procedures with any amendments and corrections since its adoption Jan. 19, 2016 and also a copy of any classification and compensation plan that would specifically apply to the Sheriff’s Office. She also requested a copy of the county’s classification and compensation plan.
In requesting the policy manual, Cyriacks wrote: “I would be very interested in obtaining a copy of this document or the specific pages that allow an individual county commissioner to make changes to approved paysheets submitted by a department head and/or elected official. And, any amendments or corrections made subsequent to the adoption of this policy and procedure manual.”
As of press time, Cyriacks had not yet received the policy manual.
County Technical Services, Inc. (CTSI) is the county’s insurance carrier. During a workshop conducted in June 2015, CTSI manager Dennis Hunt told commissioners the following:
“Be very conscientious in estimating your revenues,” he cautioned county officials. “Tell your spending agencies, ‘don’t play games or we’ll cut it.’” He noted that the Sheriff’s Office, for example, is able to hire and appoint their deputies and undersheriffs, also other employees, but must come to the board of county commissioners to work out their salaries, and this is according to statute.
This is not the same, however, as acting within the constraints of an already approved budget (meaning approval to spend the money was duly granted at the time the budget was approved) and using what is already in that budget to assign merit increases.
Hunt also cautioned about one member of the board acting on behalf of all members, reminding commissioners that two outnumbers one and they must act as a body. And yet according to Sheriff Warwick and Zimmer, only one commissioner blocked the payment of the raises.
The sheriff said he will take the matter up with commissioners at the Feb. 20 commissioners meeting.