By Jennifer Henion
Triplicate staff writer
Watching as the Del Norte County supervisors contemplate raises for elected officials has county employees wondering if their 5-percent pay cut is what will fund the raises.
"The thing that angers us the most is that the people giving themselves the raises aren't the ones who balanced the budget. We employees basically balanced it on our backs," said Debbie Mayhue, employee of the Department of Child Support Services.
Last January, all county employees were told not to come to work every-other Friday after lunch for about six months. Essentially cutting 5 percent of their work hours and pay.
The move was to avert a budget crisis that started as a $1.7 million budget deficit and by January looked to be a $350,000 deficit.
Cutting payroll by 5 percent saved the county about $300,000.
The county's chief administrative officer Jeannine Galatioto said that savings and a few unexpected sources of one-time income helped balance the 2001-2002 budget and create the budget surplus of $279,000 to balance the 2002-2003 budget.
"If we didn't come up with that surplus we would've had to eliminate about 10 more positions and at that point you're looking at layoffs," Galatioto said.
She and county auditor Christie Babich were juggling both years' budgets at once trying to balance both, she said.
The effort to maneuver funds and make cuts in the 2001-2002 budget was to make the next year's budget stable and legal for adoption, according to Galatioto.
But including money in the new budget to raise elected officials salaries after employees experienced months of cuts, is an insult, say employees and their union leaders.
"It's a slap in the face. How about giving it back to us instead of giving it to themselves," Mayhue said.
Mayhue's co-worker Jeanette Duke said morale is sinking as vacant staff positions go unfilled and workloads increase for those still on the job.
"Many of us are taking stress leave and taking medication for stress, which only makes the workload bigger. And the county is paying for that," Duke said.
"We find ourselves in offices that are extremely understaffed and underpaid, but still mandated by the state to do our jobs," added Mayhue.
Del Norte County Employees Association President Norma Williams has written a letter of protest about the raises to the Board of Supervisors on behalf of the union.
"Our concern is the fact that nowhere in the proposed final budget are county employees compensated or reimbursed for the cuts taken last year," Williams wrote to the board.
Though the board has not formally voted to approve the new salary scale for elected officials, it is likely it will do so when it considers the matter on Oct. 22. Four of the board members have publicly expressed their approval.
In the meantime, Williams said the union is encouraging all employees to express their opinion about the raises for elected officials before or at the Oct. 22 meeting.
"There's also some question of whether it is legal or not, thanks to supervisor Clyde Eller. We now have our attorney looking into it," Williams said.