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Half of Oklahoma Agriculture Department employees receive raises

Oklahoma's outgoing agriculture secretary says the raises were planned for some time and came after the agency was able to save money in the first part of the fiscal year.
BY PAUL MONIES pmonies@opubco.com Modified: December 15, 2010 at 3:15 pm •  Published: December 15, 2010
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Peach said when he took over the Agriculture Department, many of the employees were at the low end of a three-level pay scale.

“When I came on board eight years ago, we started hiring everybody at midpoint,” Peach said. “Over this full eight years, we were never able to have enough money to catch everybody up, but we were able to get everybody at midpoint.”

With the latest raises, Peach said classified employees will be making the same as everybody else at their job level. For example, there used to be a difference in pay between employees classified as “Forester I.” That difference will be eliminated, he said.

“We're still way underpaid compared to a lot of other state agencies,” Peach said. “Other state agencies have been doing this thing for the last two or three years. We actually put a freeze on our budget two years ago, so we didn't give any raises those years. That actually paid off very well for us because we had two furlough days last year, and many agencies had more than that.”

Scott Barger, deputy director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said it could be risky to give raises halfway through the state's fiscal year.

“During these times, I think most of the state agencies out there that have ‘lapsed' personnel money are holding on to that,” Barger said. “You never know when you can utilize that money to help the budget situation and keep employees on the front lines.”

Gov.-elect Mary Fallin named Jim Reese as her agriculture secretary last month. Reese, a former state representative, served as a federal agriculture official under President George W. Bush. More recently, he was a rural policy adviser to outgoing House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa.