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County Raises May Be Last Workers See for Years

Budget: $25 million is set aside for previously promised increases delayed by bankruptcy, but salaries will be flat after that.


Orange County's 1996-97 budget includes $25 million for employee salary increases, but the raises are the last ones workers are likely to see for several years.

The money will go to make good on pay hikes approved before the county's 1994 bankruptcy, including an across-the-board 2.5% increase for the 14,000 union workers and merit pay boosts for hundreds of managers.

Earlier this year, the unions representing county workers agreed to new contracts that are expected to keep salaries flat through at least 1998.

"With the county in trouble because of the bankruptcy, the budget was legitimately too tight for increases this year," said John Sawyer, general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn. "It would be kind of futile to discuss it. So we felt we were better off locking in the salaries for this two-year period."

Salaries for managers and executives will stay level through 1998, and County Chief Executive Officer Jan Mittermeier has no plans to propose pay hikes for elected officials, a spokeswoman said.

The county has also negotiated lower contributions to the Orange County Employee Retirement System that reflect smaller pay raises in the future than they have been in the past.

The $25 million in salary increases in the current $3.6-billion budget were approved by the supervisors just weeks before the county plunged into bankruptcy Dec. 6, 1994. But wages were frozen until the county emerged from bankruptcy in June of this year.

This summer, employees received more than $20 million in retroactive pay to make up for salary increases they were denied during the bankruptcy.

"These are contractual obligations that have to be satisfied," said Bob Wilson, the assistant chief executive officer.

By accepting no new raises for now, Sawyer said employees made a good-faith gesture designed to help the county through its crisis. But workers would seek more pay in the future if the county's financial situation improves.

"We'll have to wait and see what the trends are," Sawyer added. "If the economic conditions change and the county is doing better, county employees would expect an increase."

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