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News State / Region Study shows half of county employees’ pay below average

Macon County employees attended a presentation Monday night regarding pay scale comparisons with other North Carolina counties. The classification and compensation study was conducted by Springsted Inc. Commissioners are now tasked with whether or not to implement the recommendations. Photo by Bobby CogginsCounty employees across various departments filled the Macon County Board of Commissioners meeting room Monday night, for a special presentation from John Anzivino with Springsted Inc., a company who recently completed a classification and compensation study of county employees.

The study was conducted after Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland informed commissioners that he was losing deputies to surrounding counties because the county's pay scale was significantly lower than that of other locales.

“My reasons for asking for salary adjustment for deputies is that we conducted our own survey and found that Macon County officers were making less than those working in surrounding areas including Jackson County as well as Franklin and Highlands,” said Sheriff Holland. “We have officers with the same experience and years of service leaving to go to make more money. Anytime you have an officer leave the MCSO only to go to an agency making a higher salary than we were paying them, all the county dollars you have spent equipping them and training them is simply wasting tax dollars. At the time I made the request I knew we were not the only department in the county but I can not speak for other department heads ... it’s their responsibility to speak on behalf of their employees. I feel that I run a tight ship and require a lot of my officers and our community expects it. In return, officers and their families make great sacrifices to serve our community and we should reward them by paying them a competitive wage. We are not asking that our officers make more than our neighbors.”

County employees' last raise was given in 2011 at 3 percent and was considered a cost of living adjustment. Prior to 2011, the last raise was given in 2008. Last year, in lieu of a raise, county employees received additional vacation days.

The official results of a county employee compensation study were presented to Macon commissioners last year, but with a new member on the board, County Manager Jack Horton requested Anzivino report his findings and answer any additional questions the commissioners had regarding the results. Originally, Horton had asked the board during their January retreat to consider implementing a pay increase for county employees, but because of the new membership on the board, the decision was delayed.

The study was once again explained in detail and reviewed areas such as personnel policy, job descriptions and pay plan.

“The purpose of conducting a compensation and classification study, is to make sure that your workforce is designed to be competitive, and that you are able to recruit and retain the most qualified workers for your county,” said Anzivino. “While it is recommended that classification and compensation studies are done every five to six years, Macon County has not had one done in the last 12 years.”

Springsted, Inc. collected information from county employees and then compared Macon County data with data in 10 similar municipalities and counties across the state.

“On average, 55 percent of your minimums, mid-points and maximums are 21 percent below the market value. That is significant,” said Anzivino.

In order to allow for a variety of data to be collected, across an array of different departments in the county, 79 different county positions were benchmarked and evaluated, during the study. Of the 79 positions that were compared to other locales in the study, 60 of Macon County's positions were earning at least five percent below the market average. Of the county's 327 employees, the study showed that 181 were being paid below the minimum salary.

Anzivino presented commissioners with three recommended options for bringing the Macon County employee pay plan up to market standards, allowing Macon County to become more competitive.

Option 1: Under this option, all employee salaries would be raised to the minimum salary rate of the proposed pay grade. Of the General Government and Competitive Services employees, 181 employees or 55 percent of the general county workforce would be affected by this option.

The estimated cost of bringing each of the employees to the minimum salary rate of their pay grade is estimated to be $613,236 for the full year implementation of the study's recommendations. Of the total cost, $525,861 represents salary increases, which are equivalent to 4.61 percent of the approximate $11.4 million annual payroll for county employees.

“If you choose to implement this option, you will bring employees up to the minimum salary rate of their proposed pay grade, while addressing internal equity and increase market comparability,” said Anzivino. “This is the minimum level of implementation required to ensure competitiveness of salaries.”

Option 2: Under this option, individual employee salaries would be placed within the proposed pay grade by providing a 2 percent increase to address some salary compression issues.

Macon County employees listen intently to the findings of the compensation study.“For example, if an employee has been placed at the minimum of a grade, this option would grant a 2 percent increase for the employee,” explained Anzivino.

The estimated salary cost of this option is $113,572 for the employees that fell within the new pay grade and $532,643 for those that fell below the minimum of the new grade for a total implementation cost, including benefits, of $754,192. “This option would allow the county to provide salaries, which meet current market conditions, based upon the market survey and recognizes the value of employees’ experience and past merit increases thus reducing the opportunity for compression salaries,” said Anzivino

Option 3: Under this option, county employees’ years of service are considered. Individual employee salaries would be placed within the proposed pay grade based on the number of years of service reflecting a more accurate picture of market-based increases for employee and the experience they have gained with the county. On average, the tenure for a county employee is eight years. For example, if an employee has been serving the county for eight years, the employee would be provided with a pay increase equal to 0.5 percent for each year of service. “This option rewards employees for longevity in their current position and recognizes the value of length of service and the development of skills and abilities in regards to performing tasks of the positions,” explained Anzivino.

The estimated cost of providing a 0.5 percent increase for each year of service in the employee's current position for those employees that fall within the new pay grade is $286,642, and $680,320 for those that fall below the minimum of the new grade for a total implementation cost of $1,127,531.

Anzivino informed commissioners while the study did reveal that salary compensation for Macon County was significantly below the market value, the county's benefit program was much more beneficial than the locales used in the survey, and noted that it should not be discounted when considering overall cost of employment in the county.

County Commissioner Ron Haven voiced his concern about the locales used in the survey. “I just don't like the counties we are being compared to,” said Haven. “When you look at Jackson County, they are about the same size as us and they weren't included in the study. They have about the same number of residents, but have fewer employees than we do.”

Commissioner Paul Higdon agreed with Haven and noted the omission of information from Jackson County.

When conducting the study, Springsted solicited information from 13 counties and municipalities, and received feedback from the 10 counties used to construct the data. Counties provided Springsted with information on a voluntary basis, so Jackson County was not purposely omitted, but instead, did not choose to aid Macon County in the study.

Although Jackson County's data was not included, Commissioner Kevin Corbin addressed Haven's concern about the difference in the number of county employees between the two entities.

“Just about everything we do in Macon County is done in-house by our own employees,” explained Corbin. “Jackson County contracts a lot of services such as the landfill, their ambulance drivers, and other jobs out, and those contracts are not county employees. We do all that work ourselves.”

On Macon County's current pay scale, the lowest pay grade in the county ranges from a minimum of $20,800 to a maximum of $31,200 (a range of $10 to $15 per hour) to the highest pay grade in the county being at minimum of $94,391 to $141,587 ($45.38 to $68.07).

According to Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten, Jackson County's lowest pay grade has a salary range of $21,143.48 to $41,455.53, while the highest pay grade has a salary range of $82,885.12 to $162,510.86, which are considerably higher than that of Macon County's.

Commissioner Ronnie Beale said he believed that taking the recommendation of Springsted and implementing it in some form or fashion should be, “the fairest way to pay back county employees for the work that they do,” he said. “They provide a vital service to our citizens.”

Higdon, who used to be a county employee, noted that he does not deny that the county employees are deserving of fair compensation, he just believes that the timing is not right. “I appreciate what all the county employees do, they do provide vital services to our citizens, but we are still in a recession,” said Higdon.

Horton's recommendation was to follow through with Springsted's pay increase. “We are not looking to give everyone a big raise,” said Horton. “We are looking to give our employees a fair pay for hard day’s work.”

Horton continued by saying that while commissioners have made it clear they have no intention of increasing the county's tax, he believes a pay increase could be sustained without an increase. “We would be able to implement and sustain the Springsted's proposal,” said Horton. “I think there is a reasonable way to sustain the pay raise after the first year, the recession is not going to last forever. I think we need to give this favorable consideration.”

“I just think we can do better for our citizens,” said Beale.

Corbin said that it is still uncertain what action the board will take next. Whatever the board decides to do, Corbin said there will need to be at least three votes involved, and he does not think there are three votes in any direction at this time.





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published: 10/18/2013
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