OKLAHOMA CITY — Roofers, carpenters, tile and carpet layers, architects and interior designers are among thousands of Department of Human Services employees slated to get average 13.7 percent pay increases.

Construction employees are among the more than 3,700 agency employees who will receive raises ranging from about 58 percent to 1 percent. Officials initially said all employees would receive a 13.7 percent raise, but said this week they misspoke and meant to say that was an average rate.

As the raises take effect, tile and carpet layer supervisors will see their annual pay jump to $60,366 while basic layers will make $38,300, according to salary records obtained by CNHI Oklahoma.

Interior design coordinators make $53,355 while roofing contractors, $59,029. Roofers’ salaries range from $39,214 to $42,155. Painters will now take home between $42,406 and $50,938 a year. And sheet metal workers now make $47,917.

The agency’s chief architect makes $86,991 a year.

The decision to maintain a state-run construction division has been a longtime “conundrum,” said Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative-leaning think tank.

DHS is tasked with running a variety of social service programs. Those include adult and child protective services, child support collection, child care licensing and monitoring, food benefits and other programs benefiting seniors and those with disabilities.

“The agency’s become extremely large and has large facilities that need to be taken care of,” Small said. “The difficulty at times is just trying to figure out whether it’s more economical to bid for some things or have those staff in-house. Sometimes, depending on what it is, it can be more expensive to bid for it.”

In all, records show the agency owns and maintains at least 70 properties across the state that include offices, warehouses and land.

“I would assume (with) as many budget cuts that have been looked at … (that) those (construction) positions have been scrutinized for years and years and years,” said Tom Dunning, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association. “I can see a need for that because of the sheer number of facilities that DHS still owns.”

Officials said the raises bring employee salaries up to par with their peers in other state agencies.

Dunning said state-employed construction workers still probably make less than they could make in the private sector.

Still, some observers note that fewer state agencies are operating construction divisions. The Department of Corrections is one that still does.

In a joint statement, the Department of Human Services and Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Office said the architect, carpet and tile layer and roofer “are supervisory.” They lead the agency’s bidding, construction and renovation projects in 92 offices across the state, and ensure structural integrity, accessibility and safety for employees and customers.

“In order to support 6,000 employees and over 1 million customers every year, DHS must maintain and improve agency facilities to support the overall mission of their agency,” the statement said. “Director (Justin) Brown has said that to truly become an agency of innovation, (DHS) requires broad and deep partnerships. The agency will procure services, including from the private sector, wherever they can best meet their customers’ needs and promote good stewardship of our resources.”

The joint statement also said that 80 percent of the employees who received peer-based raises work in “customer-facing” roles.

Still, in some cases, state salary records show those in customer-facing roles now make less than their construction division peers.

A developmental disabilities services case manager, in comparison, now makes $49,229.

A child welfare assistant now makes $33,333.

And, with the raise, the salaries for child care licensing specialists range from $35,059 to $46,638.

Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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