Despite a slumping economy, county officials have hope they can give recommended employees a pay raise this year.

Dorchester County Council discussed the biggest factor determining if they can implement a plan proposed by human resource consultants: cost.

Council was briefed at a budget workshop at Coosaw Creek Country Club last week about next yearís finances. County staff is projecting  $1.8 million in tax revenue and $390,000 in new state shared revenue.

ìNext year, maybe the year after, weíll start feeling the affects of the economy,î Finance Director Lee Moulder told council.

Lockton Consulting Group presented a compensation and classification study to County Council last week, several days before the budget retreat. The company recommends phasing in an employee reclassification and compensation increase.

The goal is to make the county more competitive when hiring and retaining employees based on market prices, according to Melissa To, a senior compensation analyst with Lockton.

County staff expressed optimism about being able to find the money needed. For next year, the county would have to find an additional $763,658 to fund the first year implementation costs. But, County Administrator Jason Ward said the employees not slated for an increase under the implementation plan wonít see any bump next year.

ìThere is no way we adjust to the recommendations and give a Cost of Living Adjustment and merit increases,î he told council.

The total for phase 1 is approximately $1.5 million. Council has already set aside more than $750,000 in this fiscal yearís budget to pay for the implementation.

Under the first phase of the implementation plan, first year pay raises will be capped at 10 percent. Sixty-one percent of the employees would receive between a $1 and $5,000 raise. Seventy-six percent of the increases would be in grades four through 10 ññ meaning a majority of those receiving raises will be below the supervisory level.

Moulder says his number one method to finding the money inside the budget is to remind department heads and elected officials of the promise they made to help fund the pay increases through finding money in their already existing budgets.

ìEveryone is going to have to improve efficiency,î Moulder said.

The study revealed sheriffís office employees, at 76 percent of market value, and EMS employees, at 80 percent, are the most underpaid. The average county employee is paid 86 percent of market value. The recommendation is to bump up salaries to between 100 and 115 percent of market value.

Contact Ryan Castle at 873-9424 ext. 216 or rcastle@journalscene.com.