Webster and similarly sized counties will be completing their budget planning in December and January, and October’s meeting of the Southwest Missouri Association of County Commissioners, presided over by Webster County Commissioner Paul Ipock, offered a chance for county leaders to consider a tricky aspect of financial planning: Wage increases.

In 2018, Missouri voters approved an increase in the state’s minimum wage. Government entities are exempt from the requirement, technically, Webster County Clerk Stan Whitehurst noted. “You don’t have to do anything with wages,” he said. “But as a practical matter, you’ve got to think how you’re going to keep employees.”

Whitehurst said that a county would have a hard time keeping a road grade operator at $9 per hour when minimum wage is $12.

The minimum wage increase law raises the minimum wage by 85 cents each year until it reaches the $12 mark in 2023.

Whitehurst pointed out that if the county raised wages 85 cents across the board, it would also have to pay more in workers comp and other areas where costs are salary driven. The total cost to the county of an 85 cent per hour change would be about $200,000.

Whitehurst advised the county leaders, “The first step is really to grab a hold of this in 2020.”

He added, “You can wait a little while, but it will be easier if you take it in little bites.”

Whitehurst said that s a practical matter, wages might flatten, so that the difference between top and bottom wage earners compresses. Or counties may opt for fewer staff members, though much of a county’s staff is mandated. “Or you’re going to have to go out and find a new revenue source,” he said.

For the Webster County budget, Whitehurst said, “We’re going to start with wages first, and then we’re going to try to figure out how to pave roads and purchase gravel and things like that.”

Mail photo by Karen Craigo

Webster County Clerk Stan Whitehurst explains some of the challenges that Missouri’s minimum wage increase will bring for county budgeting during a recent meeting of the Southwest Missouri Association of County Commissioners, held in Webster County. Webster County Board of Commissioners chair Paul Ipock, also the president of the Southwest Missouri Association of County Commissioners, looks on.

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