WICHITA — Instead of looking at salaries and benefits as separate pots of money, Sedgwick County plans to reduce expenses next year by using one to offset the other.
County Manager William Buchanan proposed to offset a 4 percent pool for performance-based raises with changes to health care coverage for the county’s 2,837 employees.
The effect would be a 2 percent increase in cost to the county for wages and benefits as opposed to a 4.2 percent increase if the county did not make changes in its health plan, Buchanan told commissioners Wednesday.
Salaries and benefits cost the county nearly $143 million this year.
Buchanan said governments typically approach compensation from a traditional viewpoint: attract employees who are willing to receive lower salaries for better benefits and job security. Raises and cost-of-living increases often are automatic, he said.
“Does this compensation strategy still work?” Buchanan asked in his presentation.
“We have a $9 million-and-more problem, and we know that,” he said, alluding to a $9.3 million deficit the county is hoping to eliminate by the end of next year.
Buchanan said a budgeting plan that looks at total compensation instead of separate pots of money would help the county attract and retain good employees, encourage employees to take personal responsibility for their health and reduce future increases in benefit costs.
Just more than 75 percent of county employees earn $50,000 or less. The average salary among employees is $42,565, and the median salary is $38,042.
Average total compensation with pay and benefits is $60,582, according to Buchanan’s presentation.
The county surveyed 14 Kansas counties about whether they provide raises or cost-of-living increases to salaries, and 10 said they did, Buchanan told commissioners. He said seven of nine Midwestern counties — including the counties that include Lincoln and Omaha, Neb., San Antonio and Oklahoma City — gave pay raises this year.
Last year, county non-elected officials were eligible to receive performance raises from a 2 percent pool, Buchanan said. This year, no general or performance raises were handed out to employees.
Buchanan also shared information about employee usage of health care benefits. A review showed that 23.6 percent of employees represent 80 percent of claims cost, and 6.4 percent of employees represent 50 percent of claims cost.
That means, Buchanan said, that both employees and the county are paying for more benefits than what are being used.
He advocated reducing premiums and increasing deductibles. Out-of-pocket expenses for some employees and their families would increase; they would decrease for others.
Commissioners made no decision Wednesday. Buchanan will present his recommended budget to them July 18. They will vote Aug. 15 on a budget for next year after public hearings July 25 and Aug. 14.