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Adams Co. keeps losing probation officers. Are wages too low?

Written by Dustin B. Levy, The Evening Sun | May 13, 2017 11:23 AM
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(Photo: File, The Evening Sun)

(Adams County) -- Retention among Adams County employees is an issue that has plagued the commissioners since they took office in 2012.

The latest department to seek wage changes to compensate for the losses is probation services.

Adams County President Judge Michael George presented the case for probation officers, citing about a 50 percent turnover rate in the last three years with many leaving to work in neighboring counties.

Employees in the department joined George in attendance at the biweekly county salary board meeting on Wednesday.

Although there were no items for action on the agenda, George felt it necessary to open a dialogue on the topic. The department will undergo an internal review to make recommendations for the commissioners, he said. County human resources will look at comparable wages as part of the its regular departmental investigations.

"The primary reason (officers) are leaving is for better wages and benefits in other counties," George said.

The starting salary for Adams County probation officers is $30,492.80 annually, according to district court administrator Donald Fennimore. Their last wage increase came in 2012.

In York County, the starting rate for probation officers is $38,723, according to Mark Walters, York County communications director. The starting salary increased by 1 percent in the past year per their union contract.

It is a waste of resources to train employees only for them to later depart for a job in another county, George said. The turnover and replacement of an officer costs about six to nine months of their salary.

"That doesn't make financial sense," he said.

READ:No 2017 tax hike expected in Adams County. But 2018?

Cumberland County probation officers earn about $11,000 more than those in Adams County, according to George. Franklin County officers make about $600 more, but conversations with Franklin County officials have confirmed that they are experiencing similar turnover issues within their probation department, George said.

The counties vary in comparative size and population, but they are ones in which Adams County competes with in the job market because of proximity.

George suggested a re-evaluation of the department's salaries. For instance, he brought up the addition of merit-based promotions instead of ones based on artificial time periods.

Overall, George recommended the need for a way to reinvest money used for training to employees to retain the ones they have now.

The commissioners were receptive to George's pitch, but made no promises. The agreed to open a healthy dialogue about the issue.

"We want to improve the situation," Commissioner Jim Martin said. "We don't want to continue on a course where we lose experienced people to constant turnover. There's no stability in that kind of environment."

The commissioners acknowledged a difficult balance between funding county services and balancing the upcoming budget. The commissioners are anticipating tight budget constraints next year and a possible tax hike.

The commissioners noted that the competitive market of county jobs had made retention an issue for several departments. They approved wage hikes for security guards and law clerks last year for similar reasoning.

Commissioner Marty Qually anticipated this would be a matter for the following year's budget.

It's not possible to "keep up with the Joneses'" all the time, but incentives to keep county employees are important, Qually said.

MORE:Adams County security to get pay increase

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between The Evening Sun and WITF. 

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