Joint Finance Committee considers full impact of proposed state employee pay increase

Discussions continue in Dover surrounding a proposed pay increase surrounding state employees.

The Joint Finance Committee wrapped up its first week of public hearings, and inquiries over Gov. John Carney’s proposed scaling pay raise cropped up at the Department of Human Resources hearing.

DHR secretary Claire DeMatteis, recently appointed by the governor, says the state needs to make greater strides in attracting workers on the lower end of the pay scale.

“For instance, the Department of State has a 25.6% vacancy rate,” says DeMatteis. “And it’s those lower country scales that we can’t keep people. The Division of Corporations, vital to our state. But the pay scale is not commensurate with market rates. And so we train them, then we lose them.”

Even among some of the state’s higher paid staff, there can be issues with employee retention.

Late last year, the Office of the Public Defender also sought increases in pay for attorneys, saying it’s difficult to keep public defenders on staff when even New Castle County pays their lawyers more than the state.

The proposed increase would raise salaries by up to nine percent for the lowest paid employees, down to two percent for the highest paid.

JFC chair Trey Paradee says the impact on collective bargaining agreements has to be considered.

“In terms of the effect on the budget, there’s a timing issue here,” Paradee says. “And in terms of when these negotiations are resolved and how they’re gonna fit into the budget. So That’s something that all of us really need to keep an eye on.”

DeMatteis says a little less than half of executive branch employees are under collective bargaining agreements, and many of those are up for renegotiation this year.

DeMatteis adds this proposed increase for the merit staff would lift the floor of those negotiations.

Both DeMatteis and Paradee agree the state needs to make better strides to attract and retain state employees, as some departments face massive vacancy rates.

Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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