The proposal from County Attorney Reuben Neff to use some of the money saved by vacancies to retain people in the office makes sense to us. While details are being worked out, the basic approach and the end goal are both appropriate.
Turnover in any office costs more than just the extra work for those left in place. There’s a loss of productivity as people must spend extra time catching up on projects or responsibilities with which they weren’t previously familiar. There’s a loss of institutional memory. And for those who deal with the office, there’s a loss of familiar contacts with whom they had relationships.
When you’re talking about an area as sensitive as criminal justice, that poses a risk for those accused of crimes, the victims in those cases, and the families of both parties. There are too many people, too much at stake, for complacency. Finding new ways to approach the situation, to stem the losses and retain the people already in place, is critical.
The situation is compounded when you run into difficulties filling positions. That is becoming a theme for the county. Last year’s extended search for a new county attorney and the difficulties Neff mentioned in finding people willing to work in county attorneys’ offices generally are troubling. It suggests a systemic loss of standing, rather than problems caused by the current low unemployment.
There’s another factor in play, though, that needs to be addressed. Neff pointed out that many of the area counties pay more, that the candidates he is trying to recruit can make more with less work in those locations. That’s part of the reason for turnover, too, as people decide a move to another county will better reward them for their efforts.
None of these difficulties is, taken individually, is particular cause for concern. But taken together, they should raise eyebrows. The picture they paint is a genuine reason to worry for Wapello County residents.
The simple fact is that the county is behind its peers in pay, and its reputation has gone from being a thrifty county to a cheap one.
It’s one thing to hold the line on costs, and the county does well on that. It’s another to drive down the pay relative to other counties to the point it causes yourself difficulty. The former makes sense. The latter does not. For too long Wapello County has been trending toward the latter.
There are signs this has begun to change. The supervisors’ willingness to vote in favor of raises earlier this year was encouraging. It was a split vote, yes, but that’s more than the board has been willing to do in prior years.
What our leaders need to realize is we did not arrive at this point overnight and the kind of radical shifts that would eliminate the issue overnight would not be wise. What Wapello County needs is a sustained effort to raise its status relative to other counties, one that takes pay for county employees more seriously than the supervisors have in the past.
Neff deserves credit for approaching the supervisors with his ideas, and the supervisors deserve credit for being willing to take a hard look at what can be done in the near term to help.
Viewing this as a simple fix would be a mistake, though. Only a long term view and a long term effort can fulfill that requirement.