by Michelle Ye Hee Lee – Oct. 20, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday narrowly rejected pay raises for two top-level county administrators.

The five-member board rejected the raises on a 3-2 vote, with a slight majority indicating that its approval would send a bad signal to taxpayers and to other county employees whose pay has not risen amid the economic downturn.

“We lost some good people; we kept some very good people. I think everybody, it’s safe to say, is undercompensated to some degree. I just want to be fair with everybody and consistent in our approach,” board Chairman Andy Kunasek said.

Supervisors Max Wilson and Fulton Brock joined Kunasek in opposing the measure, while Supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox and Don Stapley voted in favor.

Officials from the county’s Office of Management and Budget proposed a 9.9 percent salary increase for Steve Wetzel, director of the county’s Office of Enterprise Technology, and a 5.3 percent increase for Risk Management Director Rocky Armfield.

Wetzel’s annual salary would have increased to $213,803, from $194,480. Armfield’s would have increased to $132,018, from $125,362 a year.

Armfield and Wetzel were the two highest-paid county employees to be counteroffered a salary raise.

Both had received job offers at other companies, and County Manager David Smith suggested offering them salary increases to keep them working for the county.

“Frankly, our people are targeted (by the private sector). We don’t make counteroffers very often,” Smith said. “But we do, as a strategy, to hold our management team together and our key personnel – from the standpoint that . . . we’re operating with 10 percent less employees than we did four years ago, $25 million less in payroll than four years ago.”

Maricopa County has frozen merit-based raises for four fiscal years.

The county has had an informal policy to make counteroffers if it would “suffer great detriment if the employee left the county.”

In the past five years, the county has given raises to 14 employees as counteroffers. The departments with those employees are the Assessor’s Office, the Human Services Department, the County Manager’s Office, the Recorder’s Office, the Education Service Agency, the Planning and Development Department, the Office of Management and Budget, the Elections Department and the Department of Public Health.

Salary increases ranged from 0.83 percent to 25.98 percent.

Deputy Maricopa County Manager and Budget Director Sandi Wilson said the supervisors’ decision on Wednesday indicates an end to the county’s policy of making counteroffers.