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Women rule the roost in Sylva

Sylva is a town that’s run by women, both on the board of commissioners and among staff positions in town hall.

Of the six-member town board, three members — including the mayor — are female, as are the people filling the two highest-paid positions in town government, which employs 23 full-time workers and three part-time workers. Sylva Town Manager Paige Dowling earns the highest salary, having led the town since her hire in April 2012, and the second-highest salary goes to Finance Director Lynn Bryant, who has worked for the town since September 1993, making her Sylva’s longest-serving employee. Of the seven town employees who make more than $50,000 per year, four are female. 

It would not be fair to say that Sylva does not have a pay disparity, however. It does — and it favors females. 

The average salary among fulltime male employees is $42,275.01, while the average among female employees is a whopping $58,972.86, nearly 40 percent higher than the average for men.

However, that disparity is not due to female hires receiving preferential treatment, but rather due to the particular positions those employees occupy. In Sylva, women hold many of the top jobs in town hall, but they occupy far fewer jobs than men overall, meaning that the average salary for females is more easily swayed by those top earners — the town employs 19 men fulltime but only seven women. Of the 19 men, five are police officers, two are sergeants and four are maintenance technicians, all of which tend to be lower-paid positions compared to others on the payroll. There is only one female sergeant and one female police officer, and no female maintenance technicians. 

That’s not to say that men aren’t represented in town leadership, however. The town has a male police chief and a male public works director.

The town adheres to a salary schedule when setting pay for new hires, said Town Clerk Amanda Murajda. For each pay grade, the schedule lists minimum, midpoint and maximum salaries, as well as probationary hiring rates. All positions that appear on the town payroll are assigned a grade, with the exception of town manager. That position is hired directly by the town board, which negotiates and approves the employment contract. 

The hiring rate represents the lowest possible salary a person could be offered for the job in question during a probationary period that lasts 12 months for law enforcement and six months for other employees. When the probationary period ends, employees must begin earning at least the minimum salary. 

But not all employees start out at the bottom. At the point of hire, prospective employees can negotiate a higher salary based on past work experience or education level. There is no exact policy as to what that salary bump might look like, but it typically averages out to about 1 percent over the hiring rate per year of direct experience, said Murajda.

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