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Calculating Hubbard County's average salary not a simple task

What is the average Hubbard County employee's salary?

Good question.

Why wasn't it included in a recent salary story? Because it's a moving target. It could be around $50,000. But that could be way off.

Hubbard County has "163 employees, about 6 part-time," according to County Coordinator Jack Paul.

In figuring the average salary, what would be less misleading? Adding part-time employees and wages into the mix or leaving them out?

If an employee's salary is partially or wholly funded with a grant, through a federal or state program or fees charged, how should that be factored in?

Should that employee be eliminated from the average calculation altogether or still figured into it?

How about overtime? Each county department budgets for overtime.

Should overtime be calculated in an employee's salary? It's wages paid, taxed, public money spent on an employee. If a department over-spends or under-spends its overtime budget, how do we account for that in the salary mix? It skews average salaries up or down.

How about the cases where a department budgets no overtime for its employees, but then runs into a contingency and needs to keep employees late, or have them work weekends?

Those wages might not necessarily figure into the payroll mix until year-end.

How about if a department has a part-time employee, yet lists his or her salary and wages in the "regular wages" column? Oops. That means the average wage has been miscalculated.

Consider the District Court expenditures. There's $18,000 budgeted in for part-time help, yet court employees are state, not county employees. Does that $18,000 get thrown into the kitty?

Then there's the benefits issue. Should benefits and retirement pay figure into overall compensation for an employee? After all, it's taxpayer money spent on that worker.

Adding benefits to total employee compensation raises the average salary immeasurably.

No fair? How about per diem, mileage reimbursement and items like that. Should that be added?

How about contractors? They aren't considered employees but we pay them money to do things for us.

Firefighters are paid to fight our fires. County employees or not? Nope.

So let's give this a whirl, without the firefighters, the contractors or the benefits to cloud the issue.

According to 2010 budget figures County Auditor Pam Heeren presented to the board Jan. 5, the county will pay $4,461,652 in regular wages.

Let's put an asterisk there immediately. That total included salaries for each department, provided to the county board. What it doesn't include are the highway and Social Services departments, so we'll backtrack.

Budget figures provided by those departments last fall, the latest numbers available, include $1,242,700 in highway wages and $2,772,079 in Social Services wages. But do we add $175,000 from a "compensated absences" fund tucked into the highway budget?

Let's not for now. Or was it already included in that department's grand total? The total we get adding up those figures is $8,476,431. Divided among the 163 full-time employees, that's an average wage of $52,002.64.

Adding in overtime of $136,403 that has been budgeted into each department, a full-time county employee's average wage would be $52,839.42.

How about those part-timers? They collectively make $354,043, according to the figures given the county board by the auditor. Divide that by those six employees and you have an average wage of $59,007.17.

But should part-timers be figured into the county's overall total? OK, in that case, the county's 169 employees make an average of $53,058.44.

Don't take those figures to the bank. Paul initially listed the payroll at $8.446 million. For simplicity's sake, divide that by all 169 people and you get an average salary of $49,976.33. Less than an hour after providing those figures, Paul changed them. Some benefits monies had crept into the mix. The county had 169 employees in 2009 and now has 163, he said, for 2010.

The county's actual salaries, monies that will be paid out in 2010, are $7,656,620, not the $8.446.

Overtime in 2009 was listed at $218,000; it's $129,453 according to Paul's figures. Part-time wages were $402,563 paid out in 2009; they're budgeted at $354,393 for 2010.

Paul said the county employees only received a 2.77 increase, not 3 percent, by his calculations. The 2009 average hourly salary was $21.23; in 2010 it will be $22.58.

Readers can compute the average employee salary, using Paul's revised figures.

If you want more homework, you may refer to average, per capita and median wage salaries and income printed in the Jan. 13 Enterprise edition for comparisons.

But it illustrates why the media is reluctant to wade into the abyss of "average county salaries."

So what's the average county employee's salary?

Go figure.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364