Jackson County legislators have taken a step toward higher starting rates for the county’s lowest-paying jobs – $12.50 an hour in 2020 with a goal of reaching $15 by 2022.

“This is probably the largest project, maybe, in the history of the county, and the impact it has is tremendous,” said Legislator Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City.

Legislature Chair Theresa Galvin, R-Lee’s Summit, added, “I’ve been trying for five years to get this done.”

Legislators on Monday approved the 2020 budget, which includes more than $2 million to raise the lowest starting pay to $12.50. That $362.65 million budget also includes 22 new vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office, 600 new computer across various departments, an updated computer system for property value assessments, and 200 added ankle bracelets for house arrest as an alternative to jail.

Williams said the raises are important.

“Our biggest job is to be responsive to the needs of our constituents, and we do that through the work of the associates of the county,” she said.

Dr. Linda Recio, president of Evergreen Solutions LLC of Tallahassee, Fla., has been looking at county pay issues for months and told legislators that county employees – there are more than 1,000 – say they are generally happy with their work but that pay is an issue. She said county minimum pay, across the board, is 18.7 percent below the market rate, and roughly the same was true for pay at the midpoint and pay for workers at the top end of their pay ranges.

County benefits – health coverage, sick leave, paid holidays, wellness programs – are ahead of the market average, she said.

Recio called the move to $12.50 next near and $15 by 2022 and step toward paying a living wage. That cost for 2020 is $2.7 million in 2020 – plus pensions and other costs – for which the county has budgeted.