MOUNT VERNON — The Knox County Commissioners and the Knox County Veterans Service Office wrangled about a pay increase for VSO commissioners, even after the two entities agreed to a pay freeze last October.
In April, Kevin Henthorn, director of the Knox County Veterans Service Office requested the Knox County Commissioners grant a salary increase to the Veterans Service commissioners. The county commissioners denied that request. Henthorn and Veterans Service Commissioner George Curry renewed that request in person on Thursday. Although the Veterans Service Commissioners establishes salaries for VSO employees, the county commissioners, by law, are charged with fixing “a fair compensation” for the VSO commissioners.
Stockberger said none of the county commissioners questioned the value of the job the veterans service commissioners provide. The reason for the denial had nothing to do with their performance, but relates to the budget agreement reached in October. Referencing the meeting minutes and an Oct. 23, 2009, article published in the Mount Vernon News, Stockberger pointed out Henthorn said he and his staff were prepared to help the county with its budget crunch by voluntarily cutting back expenses, foregoing pay increases and asking for 10 percent less than the previous year’s expenditures. At that time, Curry said the VSO was “trying to get back to the ’08 budget level.” According to the 2010 Knox County departmental budget, the VSO appropriation was actually more than the ’09 appropriation.
Henthorn said in the last few months the VSO commissioners’ duties have increased. The training required by the Ohio Department of Veterans Services has increased, outreach efforts have increased, the commissioners spend more time in the office and are basically on call to help veterans and their families 24/7. He said the increase in pay was justified in his opinion.
Stockberger again said the denial was a matter of principle, not a criticism of the VSO commissioners’ performance, nor was it about the money. Which would be an increase of about $360 a year per VSO commissioner. He said the raise request breaches a good faith agreement and is not a good example to the other county departments.
Bemiller said no other county employees received raises in 2010, although VSO staff were granted a 3 percent cost-of-living increase. She said she was disappointed in the example that set for other county departments.
Curry said it was his understanding the budget situation would be reviewed each quarter, and that’s when the April request occurred.
“We try to do all we can within budget constraints,” he said. “We’re going to help veterans no matter what.”
Questioned about how the VSO commissioners are paid, Henthorn said their compensation is not a certain amount for each meeting attended. Rather, he explained, it is an annual salary paid in bimonthly installments to cover meetings, training, outreach and more office oversight. He also said he understood the October agreement to be to a temporary pay freeze subject to quarterly review.
Curry apologized to the commissioners for the misunderstanding, and iterated the VSO’s desire to work with, not against, the county commissioners.
County commissioner Robert Wise asked if the VSO commissioners would be agreeable to deferring a raise until July 1.
“I wouldn’t have a problem with that,” said Curry. He will present the idea to his fellow VSO commissioners.
The county commissioners also took that idea under advisement and will come to a consensus at a later time.