Ascension transitioning to merit raises in payroll saving measure

Ascension Chief Administrative Officer, John Diez (file photo)

“We need to decide if we’re going to be a job service; or we’re going to provide services to the public,” mused Chief Administrative Officer John Diez during Thursday’s meeting of Ascension’s Parish Council.

Diez described “exponential growth in personnel and salaries…75% of the increase occurred in the last four years.”  Unsurprisingly to anyone paying the least little bit of attention, the time frame corresponds perfectly with the four-year tenure of former parish president Kenny Matassa.  In 2011, according to the CAO, Ascension Parish Government’s (APG) payroll was $14 million before ballooning to $26 million at the beginning of 2020.

Since taking office on January 6 President Clint Cointment’s administration has overseen a $900,000 to $1 million decrease based on Diez’s dataset.  The savings is attributable to some terminations, but more natural attrition as retiring employees have not been replaced.  The goal is to lop another $3 million before the end of Cointment’s first term which concludes at the end of 2023.

Part of the plan will be to instill merit raises as opposed to across-the-board Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) raises every year.  It drew praise from Chairwoman Teri Casso who recalled attempts to adopt “performance based raises…” lamenting, “we couldn’t get there because of weaknesses in a lot of areas.”

Adding names to the Personnel Roster…

Matassa adds 140 employees, $5.3 Million to Ascension’s payroll (and counting)

is the main culprit for skyrocketing payroll, but not the only one.

Over the last ten years APG has given a cumulative Cost of Living raise of 33% (3.3% per year on average), far exceeding those provided employees of Ascension Parish Schools and the the Sheriff’s Office which have ponied up an average 1% raise over the same time frame. There have been years when the COLA pay hike reached 5%.  For an apples to apples comparison, St. Charles Parish Government followed the more frugal path, giving its employees the 1% yearly bump.

SSA Consultants has been engaged to conduct an Efficiency/Accountability Study that is already underway according to CAO Diez.  Its tasks include creation of metrics for APG to generate performance evaluations, something that has not happened since 2015.  Matassa took office in January of 2016.

APG is also going to implement a system patterned after Ohio Checkbook which will publish every parish expenditure via its notification system for all to see.  Councilman Aaron Lawler has been the most vocal proponent for Ohio Checkbook, and wondered why it was not being implemented instead of the lesser known version.  Diez explained that the new version was being offered free of charge for the time being, which seemed to appease the recalcitrant councilman.