A healthy debate took place during the recent regular Green River Area Development District (GRADD) Executive Committee meeting regarding proposed GRADD staff salary increases in the fiscal year 2019-2020 draft budget.

In the proposed budget, presented by Webster County Judge-Executive and GRADD Treasurer Steve Henry, salaries would increase $72,000 from the fiscal year 2019 salary allotment of $2.4 million to $2.472 million in the proposed 2020 budget. Rounding out to a 3% increase.

The fringe benefit allotment will cover proposed salary, pension, as well as Social Security increases in the proposed budget. According to the budget draft, it will be an increase of $82,700 from the fiscal year 2019 allotment of roughly $1.3 million to $1.389 million in the proposed budget or 6% above the previous fiscal year.

These increases, while covering rising pension costs and employee Social Security costs, are meant to provide GRADD's 64 full- and part-time employees with salary bumps. GRADD's 51 full-time employees will receive a $500 annual increase as well the potential of an additional merit increase based off a review from each respective department head and its 13 part-time employees can expect a $250 increase, Jiten Shah, GRADD executive director, said.

"GRADD has always been a stepping stone," he said. "Individuals come in and gain a lot of experience and exposure and sometimes we lose them. We wanted to compliment our staff based on their performance and we also wanted to be more competitive in the job market based on what our region is doing and abroad. I'm lucky and proud to have the kind of staff that we have. If you go to any cabinet in Frankfort, you will find GRADD employees. Some have gone into politics and that is great because indirectly they are helping the region to grow and excel. When you are with GRADD, it is a lifetime, the culture that we have built generates benefits for generations to come."

As the proposed budget came up for a vote, Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly took issue with the increase that, combining pension increases, salary increases as well as Social Security increases, far outweighed the 2% increase that Daviess County employees received in the fiscal court's recently approved budget and what other county and city employees received throughout the region.

"Let me be clear, those employees deserve every penny," he said. "Just last year, we opted to allow GRADD employees to become members of the Social Security system which is another 7.85% that GRADD has put in place plus our rates for roughly a 12% increase for our contribution to their pensions. Those employees deserve every penny, but, I felt I had to stand up for my employees and other government employees that aren't afforded that luxury. Jiten understands where I'm coming from; I'm not saying they shouldn't get it and don't deserve it. However, I can't give my people that increase so why should I vote to give another special government entity that increase?"

The executive committee, with Mattingly voting against, approved the draft budget after discussion of the viability of increases in staff salary in a "healthy-debate," Shah said.

"We understand the judge's decision," he said. "His concern was that he has to justify to his folks why GRADD is getting more than his folks. He is one of the biggest supporters of GRADD and our staff. It was a healthy debate. I do understand, because they (counties) are the ones giving dues and contributions as well. Even though we set aside some funds for merit increases and living adjustments, we won't use all of the funds set aside in the budget for salaries."

GRADD's new fiscal year starts July 1.

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com.

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