Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Taxpayers' Attitudes toward Local Environmental Health Specialists: Salary Levels, Education Levels, and Services Needed

Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Taxpayers' Attitudes toward Local Environmental Health Specialists: Salary Levels, Education Levels, and Services Needed

Article excerpt

Introduction

A round table discussion at the National Environmental Health Association's (NEHA's) annual educational conference in 1993 indicated that environmental health specialists (EHSs) across the country considered their salaries to be inadequate (1). Research conducted by Oleckno and Blacconiere in 1993 (2) indicated that the low salary levels made it difficult for health department administrators to recruit and retain qualified environmental health professionals. Administrators, therefore, are faced with the difficult task of working with elected officials to try to get salary levels raised to a level comparable with those in private industries. In some cases, the objective is to raise EHS salaries to a level commensurate with salaries for other county positions that require similar skills, education, and background. In many studies throughout the United States, inadequate levels of compensation have been reported as a major source of job dissatisfaction for EHSs and sanitarians (3,4).

EHSs working at municipal or district sanitary, water, and wastewater treatment plants; administrators; regulators; and other government personnel performing environmentally related duties earn less per year than their counterparts in private industry (5). Results from the Pollution Engineering readers' survey showed that the average annual salary for government workers was $46,472, about $8,500 less per year than for environmental professionals working in manufacturing (5). Another survey conducted by NEHA with the National Association of County Health Officials reported that the highest rate of per capita expenditure for local health agencies was $3.82, and that the population per employee was 9,425 (6). This would imply that the highest gross expenditure per employee is approximately $36,000. Therefore the salaries of local health agency employees would be substantially less than the average $46,472 found by the Pollution Engineering survey.

Most studies about discrepancies in compensation compared private industry with municipal utility positions. Comparisons between industry and local health departments have been scarce. If administrators of local health departments hope to increase the salaries of environmental health professionals, they need to support their requests with data. Traditionally, the number of hours worked and the number of inspections conducted by EHSs have been used as the main evidence for salary increments. However, if administrators are to be successful in making EHS salaries comparable to those in surrounding counties or in the private sector, they need to present information to elected officials about taxpayers' attitudes on the subject of salaries and salary level discrepancies.

The "A" County of Indiana is one of the seven counties adjacent to the state capital Indianapolis. (To prevent the direct identification of individual EHSs' incomes, this research uses only letters to designate the counties of Indiana.) The county's health department has faced problems like those described above in the compensation of county EHSs. This research was designed to measure taxpayers' attitudes about salary levels for EHSs, minimum education requirements for EHSs, and the provision of extra environmental health services by local health departments.

Method

According to the Population and Housing Summary in the 1990 Census, "A" County, Indiana, has a population of 38,147. The median household income in 1989 was $34,700. Approximately 47.6 percent of the housing units are in urban areas and 52.3 percent are in rural areas. A total of 20,530 parcels of property are distributed among "A" County's 19 tax districts - 12 townships and seven cities or towns. To reach the statistics power of 95 percent and to adjust for potential unreturned questionnaires, the number of samples needed for the first mailing was determined to be 400. Details of the sample selection method were described in a previous paper (7). …

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