NOTE: Incorrect attribution corrected July 13.

THE DALLES — Citing a lack of affordable housing, increases in state minimum wage, high turnover and difficulty attracting job applicants, the Wasco County Board of Commissioners agreed unanimously to increase the “salary matrix” for staff outside the union bargaining structure.

“It’s becoming difficult to retain and hire the best staff,” said Mike Middleton, Wasco County Finance Director. He said there was a cost to raising the matrix, but there was a cost to not raising it, as well. “High turnover increases cost, as does training, and we lose customer satisfaction,” he told the board at their July 7 regular meeting, which was held in the board chambers for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A two-step adjustment of the matrix was proposed, which would result in an approximate 5% increase in wages. The matrix sets wages for county employees not under a collective bargaining agreement.

“We are having an issue attracting talent to come in,” added Nichole Biechler, human resources director. “We cannot compete. The housing market here makes it very difficult also. In my team, it is a lot of work (replacing staff).” Biechler noted the matrix change was originally investigated to address impact of COVID-19, but the problem was already apparent. “This was happening before that, COVID blew it out of the water, made it more apparent.”

She said the county had received no response on some job openings, and was also getting turned down on offers. “We all need to look at where we are at in our (wage) philosophy.”

She added that the entry level salary on the current matrix had to be eliminated regardless. “That is now under the minimum wage requirements,” she said.

Commissioner Scott Hege also noted the problem was not new, but has become more of an issues during the pandemic.

Commissioner Kathy Schwartz moved to approve the matrix adjustment for employees not covered by collective bargaining agreement, and the motion was passed unanimously.

In other business, the board requested staff to gather information and develop a proposal as to whether or not Wasco County should designate the nation’s newest federal holiday — officially Juneteenth National Independence Day — as a paid holiday.