Watch "Naples Daily NewsMakers with Jeff Lytle" at 10 a.m. today on ABC7 for an interview with Collier County Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock. The video will be available at naplesnews.com/newsmakers on Monday.
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Dwight Brock doesn't usually beg.
But as he stood before the Collier County commissioners last week, he admitted he was begging for their help.
"In the last 15 months, in my finance staff, we have lost a total of 14 out of 37 employees," Brock said. "In addition to that, five of those losses came at the hands of the Board of County Commissioners' staff. They were hired by the Board of County Commissioners' staff."
Brock said his employees are being lured away by county staff with offers of more money.
To help, Brock asked commissioners for an additional $342,000, which would bring the salaries of his staff with comparable positions in the county offices closer to the level at which the county employees are paid. In addition, Brock asked the county commissioners to engage in a pay analysis.
Commissioners readily agreed.
"The most important thing at the end of the day is that we have to have people who are doing equal work getting equal pay," Commissioner Tim Nance said. "It can be dispiriting for people who work just 100 feet apart who are making drastically different wages from one another."
Brock said he pays an accountant $40,000, but the county hired one of his accountants away for $48,000. An internal auditor who was paid $46,000 in Brock's office was hired by the county for $64,000.
Brock told commissioners that he received a letter from County manager Leo Ochs in October asking if he would be interested in participating in a pay analysis. He said he directed staff, including his human resources director Tom Whitecotton, to work with Ochs' office.
Whitecotton said they discovered the county, like the city of Naples, seeks to pay employees about 10 percent above the market value. He admitted that the clerk's office is behind when it comes to compensating its employees in finance and information technology.
"We are hurting in certain areas," he said. "We would like to make some changes now, but we would like also to have a joint comprehensive view of salaries. I think that would go a long way in terms of parity and putting us on the same page."
Collier County Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards said she, too, has lost an employee to the county in the last year.
"It was obvious the scope of his responsibility was greater," she said of the reason the employee left for a bigger salary.
Edwards said her office will participate in the salary study, adding it can only benefit her employees and the taxpayers.
"We want to be good stewards of the tax dollar," she said.
Tax Collector Larry Ray said no one has approached him about the study, but he is interested in the details.
"I don't think I have an inequity problem," he said. "I have not lost or gained employees because of the salaries we pay."
While he is in full support of the clerk's office seeing parity in their positions, Ochs said it cuts both ways. The picture gets a bit murkier when health care contributions and other benefits are factored in.
The County Commission recommends that each constitutional office pay 80 percent of their employees' health care and require employees to pay 20 percent. But the constitutional officers are not required to follow the recommendation, and most don't. The county offices under Ochs and the elections office are the only ones that follow that guideline.
The clerk's office, for example, pays about 85 percent of its employee health care costs, while employees chip in the rest. The Collier County Sheriff's Office pays about 96 percent of health care costs, and the tax collector's office pays almost 99 percent.
Those additional health care contributions ultimately come out of the county's budget and add up to more than $3 million annually, Ochs said.
"It's serious money at this point," he said.
It's not just serious money for the county.
According to figures provided by Ochs at Tuesday's commission meeting, an employee on the family insurance plan who works for the tax collector's office and makes $40,000 a year takes home about 8 percent more than their counterparts making the same amount at the county.
Ray said he is aware he is not following the commissioners guidelines, but believes in giving his employees benefits.
"I think if you look at my salaries, they are on the lower end," he said. "I make up for that in health care costs."
Edwards, a former human resources director for the county, said her office has mirrored what the commission does because she believes in supporting the county's practices.
"I think it's fair," she said.
Brock said he thought it was fair to look at the full compensation package for all employees. He admitted that his office did not follow the commissioners' health care guidelines this year, but said the county has made employees pay more in health care costs while giving them 2 percent cost of living increases. That decision, Brock said, was made after he had submitted his budget and was therefore unavailable to him.
Commissioners agreed that an analysis should include all benefits.
"I am interested in participating to equalize these things so people get treated the same and it makes budgeting a heck of a lot easier," said Commissioner Fred Coyle.