Johnson City Press: Washington County officials set a $10 hourly minimum wage

Washington County officials set a $10 hourly minimum wage

Robert Houk • Jul 5, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Washington County commissioners are moving to establish a $10 an hour minimum wage for county government employees. The pay level would apply to all full- and part-time employees.

 The new minimum wage policy was approved by the county’s Employee Compensation and Benefits Committee earlier this week. Commissioner Gary McAllister, the chairman of the committee, said his panel is following a directive set by county commissioners at their meeting on June 24.

Setting a higher minimum wage became an issue when Commissioner Kent Harris noted to his colleagues there was a job opening in the county’s Solid Waste Department for a position paying the current minimum wage of $8.50 an hour. He said the job was physically demanding, and should be paid more than the county’s minimum amount.

Commissioners agreed, and voted to set aside $34,000 in the county’s new budget to create a $10 minimum wage. They also asked the employee benefits committee to establish a pay policy that would apply to all county employees.

Commissioners also voted last month to approve a 2 percent raise for county employees. County Mayor Joe Grandy said the pay hikes were necessary for the county to keep qualified employees.

Mitch Meredith, the county’s finance and administration director, told members of the employee benefits committee on Wednesday that figures show there are fewer than 25 part- or full-time employees now earning less than $10 a hour. He also said nearly 99% of county employees are hourly wage earners.

He said only elected officeholders and some department heads are on fixed annual salaries.

Meredith said nine of the employees making less than $10 an hour now work at the Washington County Public Library, and their pay was already being raised to the new minimum in the 2019-20 budget. He said there are three Washington County Sheriff’s Office employees who are making $8.89 at the county’s Detention Center, and eight solid waste employees earning less than $10 an hour.

“It looks like $24,000 is what it will take to bring all those employees up to the new minimum,” Meredith said.

Commissioner Steve Light said it was important that the new minimum wage be paid to all county employees, including those who work for elected courthouse officials. Meredith said none of those officials, who by state law have complete autonomy over pay and personnel decisions in their offices, pay their employees less than $10 an hour.

Likewise, Washington County Highway Superintendent John. B. Deakins said all of the employees who work for him are already paid more than $10 an hour. Deakins told commissioners last month the private sector still pays more than what he offers as a minimum salary.

“Our problem is finding people who will work, and who can pass a drug test,” he said.

County Solid Waste Director Charles Baines said he supports the new minimum wage policy. He told commissioners it’s “hard to find someone” to fill a job that pays $8.50 an hour.

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