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News Macon County employees to see pay raise

County employees filled the board room Tuesday night anxiously awaiting the commissioners’ decision on a pay increase.Compensation study revealed underpaid employees.

Almost two years after a compensation study was completed for Macon County employees, in a 3-2 vote, the Board of Commissioners voted to implement the findings of the study, without raising taxes.

The study, which was conducted in August 2011 with findings being presented to the board last July, was conducted by Springsted Incorporated, a highly touted firm closely associated with the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. According to County Manager Jack Horton, based on the market data used by Springsted, the current pay plan in place in Macon County reflects minimum, maximum and midpoints that are on average, 21 percent lower than the market surveyed minimums, maximums and midpoints. The study also revealed that 55 percent of county employees are currently making less than the minimum of the study's survey results.

“The county has gone more than a decade without a pay study, it should come as no real surprise that we have fallen way below the market in a number of positions,” said Horton. “I think the last county pay study that was actually implemented was back in 1996.”

Horton informed the board that his recommendation to implement the pay study would be to follow Option 2 of Springsted's study. Under Option 2, the county would be able to bring all the employees who were found to be under the minimum salary for their pay grade up to the minimum and would give those who are “in range” a two percent increase. According to Horton, Option 2 is feasible and would not call for a tax increase for county residents.

“It would cost the county $533,127 to raise the employees to minimum and would cost $113,088 to give a two percent raise to all others,” said Horton. “With benefits, additional FICA and Medicare and retirement costs figured in for the updated pay plan, the county's total commitment would be $754,192.”

The majority of the costs involved in implementing the pay plan would be the 82.5 percent or $533,127 needed to bring employees whose current salary falls below the minimum for their position under the new pay scale. “I think that by implementing this new pay plan it will boost morale and bring a strong positive message to our employees,” said Horton. “It goes beyond just thanking them for their work, but instead it shows them we appreciate all they do for this county.”

During past months, Commissioner Paul Higdon, who was not on the board when the study was conducted or originally presented to the board, questioned comparing the county's benefits to those of surrounding counties.

According to Horton, the study showed that the county's fringe benefits were found to be consistent with those entities that were surveyed.

Higdon informed the board that he believed the overall results of the compensation study were flawed because of the counties Springsted used in the survey.

Springsted specializes in human resources and organizational management best practices, and the firm has been advising local governments and public agencies about the latter topics for more than 25 years. Springsted has completed similar studies for Transylvania, Craven, Brunswick, Cabarrus, Camden, Onslow, and Pender counties, just to name a few. The North Carolina League of Municipalities also highly recommends Springsted, as the firm has undertaken similar projects for their organization in the recent past. Despite their track record, Higdon still believed that the study conducted for Macon County did not fairly or accurately depict the current market.

Both Higdon and County Commissioner Ron Haven questioned the study’s comparisons to other counties as the study only used one bordering county, Transylvania, to draw its conclusions. Other counties used in the comparison included Haywood, McDowell, Bladen and Henderson. Representatives with Springsted informed the board that participation in the survey was voluntary and while they solicited information from Jackson County, which is closest and most similar to Macon, Jackson County did not participate in the study.

Commission Chair Kevin Corbin said that he personally solicited the information previously requested from Jackson County which showed that Jackson County paid employees significantly more than Macon County.

Horton said that Springsted selected the counties in the survey based on similarities to the county such as tax base, services offered, population and not based on proximity. While some of the counties used in the survey were from the Eastern part of the state, Horton explained those counties were selected based on criteria of resembling Macon County's government and operations, not based on location.

Higdon, who was a county employee for 10 years, said he isn't arguing the integrity or pay based on work performance aspects of the study. “I know how hard you work and I appreciate all you do,” said Higdon to a room full of county employees. “I was a county employee 16 years ago and I left the county because I wasn't making enough money. But this study is flawed. I just don't think it is economically feasible to be doing this right now when I think we are still in a recession.”

Horton argued with Higdon informing him that this is not something brought on by the recession, but is so desperately needed because it has been neglected for 10 years. “You can not look at this as being something we are doing right away,” said Horton. “Our pay plan has not been up to date for 10 years, so really this is being done over a 10 year period, that is why we are so far behind.”

“I agree with you Paul, but it is not like we are looking at bringing everyone up to average, but instead we are bringing those who are below minimum, up to minimum,” said Corbin.

On a motion made by Commissioner Ronnie Beale and seconded by Commissioner Jimmy Tate, the board approved the pay increase. Corbin was the third “yes” vote, with Haven and Higdon casting the opposing votes.

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