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News Jackson County debating salary increase for employees

Like Macon County, Jackson County commissioners are considering a salary increase for all employees. According to Jackson County Human Resources Director Danielle Wittekind, the county is currently considering a two percent increase for all employees based on the Consumer Price Index and the associated increase in the cost of living.

The last increase Jackson County employees received was during FY 2012-2013. “This was a one-time payment of $650 to employees who earn less than $40,000 per year,” said Wittekind. “Prior to this there has not been any pay increase (step, merit, COLA or otherwise) since the Mercer salary study was implemented that had planned adjustments in FY 2008-2009 and FY 2009-2010 based on aligning Jackson County salaries with the results of the survey.”

Like Macon County, Jackson County has absorbed and consolidated positions prior to the recession to the present. “The county evaluates the need for positions annually during its budget process,” explained Whittekind. “The county had 378.7 positions in FY13 and 393 in FY11 — a reduction of 14.3 positions.”

According to Wittekind, for each one percent increase in salary the county will be incurring $168,220.11 in expense to include salaries paid and associated employer paid payroll taxes.

Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten, who supports the salary increase, stated that the compensation study done in 2008 by The Mercer Group Inc looked at comparable organizations such as Brevard, Asheville, Franklin, Sylva, Buncombe County, Haywood County, Macon County, and Swain County and determined that based on those locales, Jackson County employees were paid less.

Because of the close proximity between Macon and Jackson counties, and the similarity in size and geographical distinctions, the two locales are often considered comparable.

Macon County commissioners are also considering a salary increase based on a compensation study completed last fall that deemed Macon County employees to be grossly underpaid compared to other N.C. county governments. According to Director of Human Resources for Macon County Mike Decker, the last increase Macon County employees received was a three percent cost-of-living increase at the start of the 2011-2012 Fiscal Year (July 1, 2011).

County commissioners are currently considering a new pay scale that if adopted, employees who are under the minimum salary for their position, would be brought up to the minimum. This would affect approximately 55 percent of county employees. Otherwise, those who would fall within their new pay range would be given a two percent pay increase. “The proposed increase is based on the results of the study and a survey/comparison of our county to other selected ‘benchmark’ entities,” explained Human Resources Director Mike Decker.

Decker, along with Macon County Manager Jack Horton supports the proposed increase.

“I very much appreciate the commissioners’ willingness to take a look at implementing one of the options in the pay plan at a time when there are so many other pressures on the county’s budget,” said Decker. “I know that the county manager has been working diligently to find a way to make this a reality without the need for a tax increase or shifting funding from something else. I believe that the county is blessed with employees who are dedicated and provide an excellent level of service to our residents, and I also believe that implementing the pay plan will boost morale among our staff, energize them in terms of increased productivity, and send a strong message in terms of compensating them at an appropriate level, based on what our study of the market has told us. It will also help tremendously in terms of recruitment when we do have an open position to fill as we will be more competitive from a salary standpoint.”

Like Jackson County, Macon County has been forced to consolidate positions as current employees have been asked to take on additional workload.

“While we have not had layoffs or a reduction in force, there are positions that, once an employee left, were simply not filled and the duties were shifted elsewhere within the department,” explained Decker.

To get an idea of how Macon and Jackson Counties stack up against each other, the Macon County News collected compensation data on 10 randomly selected county positions as well as benefits offered by both counties. Each position has a minimum and maximum pay range set by the county. Employees can not make less than the minimum and can not exceed the maximum. (See graphs on this page.)

Macon County benefits

Macon County pays 6.74 percent of a “regular” employee’s salary into the retirement system, and 6.77 percent for a sworn law enforcement officer (LEO). That number varies on an annual basis. In addition, the county provides a 401(k) contribution of 2 percent for each regular employee, which is voluntary on the county’s part, and a 5 percent for sworn LEOs, which is required. Finally, the county pays 7.65 percent of each employee’s salary for FICA and Medicare. In terms of medical insurance, the county pays 100 percent of the cost for employee-only coverage at $500 per month. The county also pays varying percentages of the coverage for employee/ child, employee/spouse, employee/ children and family coverage. Other coverages such as dental, vision, etc. are paid for 100 percent by the employee.

Jackson County Benefits

The Jackson County budget has salary and benefits detailed for each department. Each department has the salaries and wages listed separately from benefits (social security contribution, retirement contribution, hospitalization insurance, retiree insurance, workman’s compensation, unemployment insurance, Medicare tax).

The percentage of what monies go toward salaries and what monies go toward benefits vary across department. The total approved county budget for FY 2012-2013 is $57,679,016.

Jackson County also contributes to each employee’s local government retirement account — 6.74 percent for general county employees and 6.77 percent for sworn law enforcement officers. Additionally, the county contributes 5 percent to the 401Ks of sworn law enforcement officers as required by NCGS.

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