PREBLE COUNTY — Area voters approved a 1.9-mil levy for services of the Preble County Board of Developmental Disabilities in November of 2017. A recent financial decision left some officials questioning those funds, as it was brought to the Preble County Commissioners’ attention the board had voted to give employee Lauran Motte a raise to $56,513.60 annually, effective March 10, 2018, and had $10,000 per year increases planned for her until 2020.
It also led to the Board of DD announcing they would be renegotiating Motte’s future salary.
Commissioner Rodney Creech had asked for representatives from the board to attend a commission meeting on Monday, April 9, where he asked Superintendent Bethany Schultz, board member Steve Hurd, and Motte herself about the raise. On record, they stated that, to their knowledge, that was the only raise that was planned for the next 24 months.
Upon a public records request, Motte’s Business Manager Employee Contract shows she will have incremental increases over the next several years, until she is making a total of $77,313.60 in total.
Her first raise was official on March 10, making her salary $56,513.60. Her second raise will be effective Jan. 1, 2019, making her salary $66,913. Her final raise will be effective on Jan. 1, 2020, making her total salary $77,313.60.
The conversation began during the Board of Commissioners’ meeting on Monday, April 9. Creech provided documentation showing the 2018 Preble County Pay Scale. Focusing only on the DD employees, 11 of the 14 employees make $20 per hour or higher. Seven out of those 14 have five years of service and are making over $20 an hour.
Looking at Preble County as a whole, Prosecutor Votel is the highest paid employee, with Schultz as the second highest employee. According to Creech, DD has 11 of the top 60 employees in the county. This includes elected officials, directors, and managers. He added, the Auditor’s Office has a 33-year veteran making $20.73 an hour, while Motte has five years of service and will be in the top 10 by the time her incremental raises are complete in 2020.
During the meeting, Creech said, “More or less, what I’m looking for is clarification. I’ll go through myself, and if someone wants to jump in, please do. For the record, I support the DD program and I support what you guys do. I love being engaged in the basketball and Special Olympics. This is not about DD, this is about budgets and tax dollars. That is all I am here to talk about. My biggest concern with this is people thinking that I do not support DD, but I do. I am questioning the budgeting and management.
“I met with [Schultz] and [Motte] to discuss the needs of DD now and in the future, based on services and servicing people. As commissioners we have to decide if it goes on the ballot. Based on your presentation, I felt that it wasn’t my duty to decide what happens at that level and it was up to the taxpayers. I decided to put it on the ballot and it passed. Here we are in April after a levy passed and we received a letter with a 20 percent increase for an employee. That is very alarming and it opened up an investigation for me.
“One of the things I want to say is, I know you don’t report to the county, I know we don’t control your budget or manage your office, but the taxpayer does. I’m here on behalf of the 42,000 people in Preble County. Don’t feel like I’m trying to dig in as a commissioner, I just want 42,000 people to understand where their dollars are going,” Creech continued.
“There has been a $1.7 million increase on our taxpayers a year to do this. They are going to want to know why it went up 1.7 million and I am not saying it wasn’t needed, but to come out of the gate and give somebody a $10,000 increase, I want some explanation on that and I think the taxpayers are going to want one as well.”
He added, “To me, it is about perception. The last thing you should do before you pass a levy, or the last thing after you pass a levy, is give your employees more money. I mean, the people that voted this levy in are probably making less than your employees. They’re going to be making less and spending more.
“The biggest thing, for me, is transparency and accountability. That is one thing that I have lived my life by, so I’m going to get it out there and let the public decide. I am very disrupted by this, I honestly am. You have some of the highest paid employees in the county. [Schultz] is the second highest paid employee in the county.”
Creech then reviewed the numbers he provided, noting he did not include the Sheriff’s Department because they are union, and he did not include the Engineer’s Office. Schultz asked if he included the school districts, but Creech answered he did not, because they are not part of the county level.
To compare Motte’s job to other similar positions he stated, “Tell me if I’m wrong, but you’re doing administration-type work.”
Motte responded, “I handle all the financials and also all the human resources. I have a dual role.”
“So, you’re doing the same thing as the auditor’s office, basically,” Creech said.
Auditor Lavon Wright is the highest paid employee from the Auditor’s Office (as she is in an elected position) and she makes $60,710. The second highest employee from the Auditor’s Office makes $43,118.40. Commissioner Denise Robertson suggested Motte’s job description is close to Jennie Kaltenback from Job and Family Services, who makes $67,537.60 and is a retire/rehire with years of service under her belt.
“I would like to suggest when you talk about what we do, because I am perceiving that as you’re not doing much, when you say that we are just administrators,” Schultz said. “You compared us to the Sheriff’s Department who are out protecting people. Our office has the responsibility to make sure everyone we serve is safe and healthy.”
“You guys get to see our fun stuff, but I would encourage each of you to spend some time with me and I can share some of the stuff we get to deal with,” Schultz said. “We recently had a removal, which is similar to CSV, and I know we are often compared.”
Creech responded, “If you’re looking at Job and Family Services, they make a lot less. If you’re going to bring that up, they make $16 an hour and are removing kids.”
“I’m not bringing it up for money purposes, Rodney, I’m bringing it up to make sure that the commission understands our responsibilities and our liabilities,” Schultz said.
“I’m not trying to belittle anything you guys do, I’m trying to show you years of service and pay in Preble County,” Creech said. “I just wanted to bring this to your attention, you do have some of the highest paid employees in the county, especially compared to their tenure.”
“I’m hurt by this. When DD comes in and say that you need the money. I know that $10,000 does not seem like a lot to some people, but what services could you have provided for that amount of money?” Creech asked. “It would have went a long way. Your original levies were bringing in 1.9 million and now you’re bringing in 3.6 million, which is great if it is used wisely.”
Robertson added, “Just in levy dollars, that is almost as much as we spend for our Sheriff’s entire year’s budget.”
Creech said, “If you look at the taxes that are brought in from the general fund, we bring in 1.4 million and you’re bringing in about $400,000 more than we are. We are running the entire county, all those offices.
“The phone calls that the Auditor’s Office is getting due to taxes is out of control. People’s taxes are going through the roof, and they’re going to read in the paper next week that your employee is getting a $10,000 raise. It is all about perception,” he added.
“May I clarify something for you? I don’t know if you picked up on it in the letter that we sent,” Motte said. “My position, the way that it was, was not eligible for Federal Medicaid Reimbursement, so we made changes and I’m taking on a lot more responsibility so we’re drawing on Medicaid funds. So, actually, less money of my salary and benefits will come from local taxpayers. It is going to be drawn down and eligible for Medicaid reimbursement.”
Robertson responded, “The only issue with that is, it is all taxpayer money. No matter what pocket it comes out of, it is all taxpayer money. I know some people will put it in buckets, which is fine, but in the grand scheme of things, it is all taxpayer money, so you are still accountable to taxpayers.”
Creech asked how Motte’s workload is split up now. He stated, if she was full-time before, then to have additional tasks added, logically she would have to give up some of her previous responsibilities to make room for the new tasks. Motte countered, stating she had lost no tasks, but gained tasks a contracted worker had been performing.
“So, technically, we’re getting rid of the contractor, you’re taking on additional responsibilities, without giving up any responsibilities? So you could still do it, within your regular work week,” Creech said. “Typically, if someone takes on a $10,000 increase for their workload, they should have to give something up. We have an employee that is going to work the same amount of hours, but she is getting a $10,000 increase.”
Schultz responded, “But she is taking on additional responsibilities, so I don’t understand.”
“Every office in this courthouse has taken on additional tasks since 2008 and they are still making the same rate,” Creech said. “They get small increases, two to five percent increases. We have to do more with less.”
“This is a position that requires a degree, as well,” Schultz said. “So we are recognizing that.”
“So do our Children Services workers,” Robertson said. “They are the lowest paid employees that require a bachelor’s degree. It is very difficult to find people for these positions, because they are paid so low.”
“A lot of our law enforcement has degrees, Job and Family has degrees,” Creech said. “A degree doesn’t mean anything. You still have to pay what the job is worth. We’re going to pay an administrator at your office $10,000-$15,000 more than we pay law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys? To me, that is offensive.”
Robertson suggested bringing the discussion to the Developmental Disabilities Board, as they are the entity that approves the raises. Schultz makes recommendations and the board has to approve them.
Motte pointed out, the board looked at statewide salary comparison’s to decide the wage of her combined position. Her position is a combination of Business Manager and HR Manager. The statewide average salary for a Business Manager, according to Preble County DD, is $79,085. The statewide average salary for a HR Manager is $69,169. Sharing this position internally saves $103,205 plus benefits annually, according to DD representatives.
Creech responded, “statewide” is not Preble County and they should be looking at comparable counties.
Preble County Auditor Lavon Wright added, “I think that your average should be considering just the tax bases that we have in this county. If you’re going statewide, there are a lot of other counties with a higher tax base then Preble County.”
“Are you planing on any other increases from the next 12 to 24 months for any employees?” Creech asked.
“That is not my decision to make,” Schultz responded.
Board member and Eaton Police Chief Steve Hurd said, “We do not have any set.”
“So, right now, as this sits and if there are no changes, there would be no increases next year?” Creech asked, and Schultz responded that he was “correct.”
“My recommendation is that you would take this information back to the board and maybe consider it next time you make increases, because some of these jobs are similar,” Robertson said.
The official contract was not discussed during the board meeting, but upon a public records request it shows that next year, Motte will be getting an additional wage increase. The contract is signed by Lauran Motte, Bethany Schultz, and Board President Eva Howard.
At press time, the Preble County Board of Developmental Disabilities submitted the following statement:
“The Preble County Board of Developmental Disabilities (PCBDD) would like to respond to the concerns in relation to one of our recent decisions. The board takes taxpayers’ concerns seriously and scheduled a special board meeting to discuss them.
“We care deeply for the individuals we serve and believe that hiring and keeping quality employees to coordinate those services is imperative, but we also know that we have a responsibility to use local tax funds wisely. The Finance and Personnel Director in consideration of the concerns raised, has graciously suggested to renegotiate her contract.
“The PCBDD appreciates and applauds her integrity in this matter. We would, however, like to explain the decision we made. To find and retain quality employees the board periodically asks for a salary survey of other boards of DD across Ohio to see how our salaries compare. It has been an established practice to look at other counties and then gradually move the salaries of our employees into the average range.
“In determining the salary for this new position, which combines the roles of business manger and human resources, we looked to those salary surveys mentioned above. The employee selected for the new position was promoted from within and her current salary was well below the amount of similar positions in other counties, so we used our established procedure for bringing the salary into range.
“It is also important to note that with this new position, we have the ability to draw down federal funds to offset the cost of this increase without relying solely on local taxpayer monies. This salary adjustment fits within our existing annual budget and encompasses 0.341 percent of the annual budget. We hope this statement explains our decision and allays the concerns of the community.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH
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