Low starting pay for Branch County employees is making hiring difficult for the Branch County Prosecutor’s Office and Branch County Commissioners aren’t budging on funding.
Valerie White, who took over as Branch County Prosecutor in February, said her department always stays very busy. She said there's been a lot of turnover in the office over the last few years and the department has hired new employees with little experience to replace the many employees with decades of experience who left.
“We have wonderful people, but they’re learning," White said.
She said the latest vacancy of the felony clerk had really put the office in a bind.
Ideally, she said, the position would be filled by someone with a legal background, but she said the county's new hire rate of $12.77 an hour for the position makes it hard to find a match.
"Why would someone with specialized knowledge want to come start working for such a low amount of money? I mean you can make more at ALDI," White said. "And we need somebody who has knowledge of the legal field. How do we bring someone in at that low of a level?"
White said it's hard to train someone without experience when the rest of the staff doesn't have it either. She said county commissioners have suggested bringing in temporary employees with experience to train new hires. White said the department has brought people in, but they are hard to find, and hard to convince to help for little to no pay.
At the latest commissioners meeting, she asked the board to ignore the new hire policy to help her fill the position, arguing the money that would be used to pay the clerk more is within the department's budget. The board denied her request.
Branch County Administrator Bud Norman said the county installed a tiered pay system in 2011, after the recession, to avoid having to lay off county employees. He said while county employees may start at a low pay rate, their pay accelerates quickly, with wage raises at the end of the first six months of working, and at the end of each of the employee's first five years. He said all departments are affected by the new hire pay rate, and the county can't give special treatment to the prosecutor's office.
"If they make an exception for our department, then they need to make an exception for other departments. I was just throwing it out there," White said. "I understand why they did it, and I understand where they’re coming from.”
White said her department will have to find someone with experience who is willing to work for low pay starting out, or, more likely, go with someone with little experience and find a way to train them.