County engineer declines offer to return

Herald Staff Writer

Less than a month after parting ways with their engineer, county officials tried to woo him back. But their offer was rejected. 

The Dubois County Council agreed Monday to offer Jason Heile $71,000 a year to return to his old job — $11,000 more than it was willing to give him before. The offer came with the guarantee of a significant raise next year and an even larger raise the following year.   

Heile, who quit in late January to become the Daviess County engineer, said this morning he was flattered by the offer but had turned it down.  

“I wouldn’t feel right doing it,” said Heile, who noted he already made a commitment to Daviess County.

Heile’s new job pays him $75,000 a year. The council’s offer represented a dramatic shift in how much it is willing to pay certain employees.

Last summer, Heile asked county officials for more money. He made $58,400 a year but felt he should be paid closer to $70,000. In arguing for the raise, he pointed out that other county engineers with similar experience made at least that much and, in some cases, more.

The request was approved by the county commissioners, but the county council, which has final say over employee salaries, felt the raise was too steep. Ultimately, Heile’s pay was elevated to $60,000.

Noble County, in the northeastern corner of the state, recently hired Zach Smith as its full-time engineer. Smith, who is only a few years removed from college, was given a starting salary of $65,000, according to the Noble County Auditor’s Office.

Heile, 37, said he wanted to stay in Dubois County but with a wife, two young children and another baby on the way, he felt he couldn’t afford to pass on the offer in Daviess County.

Heile and his family still live in Dubois County and don’t plan to move. He has been an engineer for 14 years and worked for Dubois County for more than four years.

Civil engineers employed by state or local governments earn considerably less than those in the private sector, who typically bring home more than $100,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But working at an engineering firm usually means logging longer hours.

Three people have applied for Dubois County’s engineer position, but all expect to earn more than the county has paid in the past, said Steve Berg, the county’s highway superintendent. He was joined at Monday’s meeting by the county commissioners, who urged council members to rethink their stance on salary.  

Because of employee turnover, “we never get better than where we were yesterday because we’re continually retraining,” Berg said. “And that puts us all behind.”

Brosmer Land Surveying of Jasper is handling the county’s engineering work until the position is filled. Council President Greg Kendall said no one wanted to see Heile leave.

Council members balked at Heile’s salary request last month because they were afraid other county employees would also demand more money. They now admit they should have done more to keep Heile.

“Our taxpayers deserve the best people we can get for the amount of money we pay,” Kendall said. “But if we’re unfair, then we need to raise our salaries.”

Commissioner Larry Vollmer suggested the county give Heile an opportunity to come back before interviewing other candidates. Council members agreed to offer Heile $71,000 this year, then raise his pay to $73,000 next year and $76,000 the following year.

The commissioners can offer the other applicants the same amount, but the subsequent pay raises will be lower than what was offered to Heile. The commissioners are expected to begin interviewing candidates this week.  

“When you hire a professional, you have to pay what the going rate is. We have to really look at our going rate, and maybe it is not high enough,” council Vice President Jerry Hunefeld said. “If there’s no one there that will do the job at that rate, that tells me that our rate’s too low.”

Contact Tony Raap.

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