Ellis County commissioners told the county treasurer the timing was not right to give two employees in her office a raise, but they were open to discussion of merit raises.

County treasurer Lisa Schlegel appeared before commissioners at their regular meeting Monday evening to talk about increasing a stipend for her deputy treasurer and treasury operations manager.

Schlegel explained that over the last two years, she has restructured the staff positions in the office.

The deputy treasurer used to be a full-time position but is now a stipend position performed by Suzana Augustine, whose full-time pay is funded by the state motor vehicle department. She receives a $2,000 annual stipend for the county treasury duties she performs.

“Just doing the math of the time that she spends with her work day doing treasury-type duties, it seems like she spends about 10% of her day doing treasury duties instead of 5%, and so I’d like to increase that stipend to $4,500 a year, just to make sure that whoever is deputy in the future always has a fair wage for the work they’re doing for the county,” Schlegel said.

Schlegel also discussed a raise for treasury operations manager Casey Hammond, a position she said she created for the office that ensures cross-training and supervision of employees as well as providing job manuals for each position in the office and helping interview potential employees.

“She can basically make sure everyone is not just doing only one thing, and then if that person were to leave, we would be left in a lurch and not know how to do something,” Schlegel said.

Hammond has also been instrumental in the office, collecting more than $600,000 in interest income, Schlegel said.

“That comes with investing money, it comes with working with the banks, just really keeping on top of things. Casey has been my partner in that,” she said. “I think it would be fair just based on what she provides to the county, supervisory-wise, is a little bump in her wage."

Schlegel said the raises for both positions would amount to a little over $5,000. The funds are already in her budget, she said, but she wanted to make sure the commission supported the raise before going ahead with it.

Commission chairman Butch Schlyer initially had some harsh words for Schlegel’s proposal, which she had emailed to the commissioners before Monday’s meeting.

“My first reaction when I read your correspondence is why the hell is it in your budget?” Schlyer said. “I’m going to tell my fellow commissioners right now, if that money is in your budget, the first thing I’m going to do when we look at 2021 budget, just take it back out. It shouldn’t be there. You shouldn’t be able to pad personnel services. I don’t like it and that kind of money just shouldn’t be in there."

Schlyer also said employee raises should be left to the county’s wage and benefits committee, an employee group.

“I’m sure the two employees would be considered for salary increases in July when the wage and benefits committee would get their increase. I don’t think this commission should do anything more than that,” he said.

He then criticized Schlegel for coming to the commission with the proposal at this time.

“I think your timing is atrocious. If there’s $6,000 in your budget, it shouldn’t be there," he said. "We have to go ask people to support a sales tax. How can I do that when I say the treasury got extra money in her budget to give salary increases whenever she wants to? I just can’t rationalize that. So as far as I’m concerned, it’s a big no for me."

Schlegel addressed Schlyer’s concern about the money being in the budget.

“There was no padding of a budget. There’s lots of places $6,000 can come from when you’ve got a half a million dollar budget. Some things maybe have been saved, and I have that in there,” she said.

She noted an employee left in September and the position has not been filled, creating some savings.

Commissioner Dustin Roths said he also could not support the raise because of the timing, but he acknowledged the need for merit raises.

“It tends to be in government that we look at longevity much more than we look at merit, and I don’t believe that’s the way we should look at things," he said. "Outside of government, merit is about the No. 1 reason why people get pay raises.

“As far as the timing goes, yeah, that’s the hard thing for me. I think in the budget process for ’21, I’d be happy to hear you out on this.”

Schlyer said he agreed with Roths that merit should be considered in county employee raises, but getting there will need some work.

“I like the idea of a merit-based system. I’m not sure how we get to it from here," Schlyer said. "There is a lot of good employees in this county that have all the qualities of your two employees. I just don’t know how we get to it from here and still keep up (cost of living adjustment) and everything with all the other employees."