The $30,000 study conducted last summer by the Springsted consulting firm based in Virginia compared public employee pay and job duties from a cross section of 67 Macon County positions to the same information collected from 10 other governmental entities across North Carolina.
At a recent county meeting, the results of the study were presented in depth to county lawmakers. The study’s conclusion: 90 percent of the Macon County positions surveyed are paid below market value.
Springsted Senior Vice President John Anzivino said that’s an indicator that the county has not been keeping up-to-date with its pay scale, nor has it been increasing its employee salaries to stay current and match their changing duties. The county’s last employee study was conducted more than a decade ago.
“Macon County went a good long time between studies,” Anzivino said. “The last study was prior to a lot of things happening in the market place.”
Also included in the study were recommendations for how the county could adjust the pay plans for its 400 or so employees. The cheapest of those plans — apart from commissioners deciding not to implement the study — is a $618,000 annual injection of county money into the wages of its workers to bring them up to the recommended minimum pay. The second option would cost about $759,000 per year and include 2 percent raises for some workers.
Commission Chairman Kevin Corbin said he wasn’t against changes to the pay plan, but not necessarily the ones recommended. He added the study was remiss in not factoring in the county’s benefits plan, one of the most generous in the state. In the past, the commissioners have voted to beef up the benefits plan instead of offering cash raises.
“Nine-thousand dollars per year should be added back into some of those calculations,” Corbin said of the salaries used by the study for comparison purposes. “Macon County has a good benefits plan.”
Under the cheapest plan proposed by Springsted, the salaries of the top earners in Macon County government would remain untouched.
However, the county’s transit drivers would each receive about a $6,000 per year raise to just more than $25,000; the veteran’s service officer would get about a $7,000 raise, bringing the annual salary to $35,000; and the animal shelter attendant salary would rise $3,000 annually to about $25,000.
County Manager Jack Horton said the increases would help some public workers make a living wage and give others the salary their job duties call for. The county manager’s annual salary of $133,000 was not included in the pay study. Horton said implementing the plans would not raise taxes.
“We’re not looking to give everybody a big raise,” Horton said. “We’re looking to pay a fair wage for a fair day’s work.”
But, Commissioner Ron Haven was skeptical about the pay raises. He said that he understands its hard to make it on a low wage; however, it’s a struggle shared by many others in the private sector. Raises have been scarce there as of recent, Haven said. In 2011, Haven supported a 3 percent cost-of-living increase for county employees.
“I believe in paying everybody for what they do and for what they’re worth,” Haven said. “But just because someone feels they are making less than what they’re worth, well, welcome to the club.”
Haven also questioned the study’s comparisons. The study only used one bordering county, Transylvania, to draw its conclusions. Other counties used in the comparison included Haywood, McDowell, Bladen and Henderson.
Nevertheless, Anzivino defended the comparison counties, saying they were selected from a pool of places that were comparable in demographics to Macon County. He said the methodology has been proven to work. Rather, he said, these types of studies can gather undue scrutiny because of the subject matter.
“It’s a very complex process,” Anzivino said. “And a process that often gets a lot of scrutiny because it involves public sector pay.”
However, Haven asked if the concern was losing employees to other entities, why do the comparison with counties so far away?
“This is like trying to compare Italian to Mexican food to French cuisine,” Haven said. “While we’re sitting here eating beans, potatoes and pork chops.”
Furthermore, Macon County has an 8 percent annual employee turnover rate, which is relatively low.
The commissioners may discuss the study and its recommendations further at their upcoming April meeting and possibly take action soon. All North Carolina counties begin their new fiscal year on July 1.