Eau Claire County Courthouse

What started seven months ago as an inquiry into DHS financial practices has progressed into a criminal investigation that includes a forensic audit.

EAU CLAIRE — Pay raises for Eau Claire County employees appear more likely.

During a joint meeting Monday, the Finance and Budget Committee, Human Resources Committee and Administration Committee all approved a resolution authorizing a 2021 budget amendment to reinstate the 2020 annual employee step increases. Each committee unanimously approved the resolution. The COVID-19 task force approved the resolution last week.

If approved by the County Board during its meeting Wednesday, the step increases will be effective on March 14 and apply to current county workers who were employed as of July 1, 2020. The resolution requires approval from at least two-thirds of County Board supervisors, since it is a budget amendment.

Step increases, which are essentially pay raises, were suspended by the COVID-19 task force in June 2020 as one measure to lower county spending during what was expected to be a financially difficult time caused by the pandemic. Reinstating step increases, which will cost approximately $450,000, was done by increasing the county’s 2021 sales tax revenue projections from $10.05 million to $10.5 million.

“We don’t think it’ll (cost) the entire $450,000, but if it is, we have it,” said Supervisor Stella Pagonis, chairwoman of the Finance and Budget Committee.

The step increases are not retroactive; they apply beginning in March 2021, meaning workers will pocket one-fourth of the money they were slated to receive from July 2020 to June 2021. However, pay raises slated for July 1, 2021, will be based on the salary an employee would have received if the 2020 step increases occurred in full.

When workers receive their July 2021 pay raise, “they will be back to where they should have been,” County Finance Director Norb Kirk said.

For example, a worker making $50,000 per year who receives a 1% step increase will pocket $125 instead of $500. The worker loses out on $375, but the worker’s pay raise in July 2021 will be an increase from $50,500.

Other business

The Finance and Budget Committee approved a resolution to borrow a maximum of $24.35 million to finance the construction of a new highway facility that is set to be completed in 2023.

The Finance and Budget Committee approved a resolution authorizing the county to borrow a maximum of $7.405 million to finance capital projects in 2021.

The County Board meets Wednesday, Feb. 17.