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Pay equality a priority in Macon

Pay for Macon County employees is constantly on the mind of Macon County Manager Derek Roland, and every year putting together the county budget is a balancing act between protecting taxpayer dollars and providing adequate pay for the county’s more than 300 employees.

In order to recruit and retain high performing employees, Roland said, Macon County is constantly evaluating salaries and benefit offerings to ensure the county is remaining competitive with similarly sized/positioned local government organizations across the state. 

“The Macon County employees are the most valuable asset this organization has with salary and benefit costs totaling approximately $26.5 million or 51 percent of the $52.3 million general fund operating budget,” he said. “It is because of these individuals, their tremendous work ethic, dedication to public service, and above all, their love for Macon County, that results in Maconians enjoying the highest level of public service at the third lowest price tag (ad-valorem tax rate) in the State.” 

Macon County is an equal opportunity employer, and Roland said he hasn’t experienced any pay inequality when it comes to gender. The county has plenty of examples of women holding high office within the organization. The top earner on the county payroll is a female dentist making over $140,000 a year and the female finance director makes $117,000 after serving in that position since 2011. 

The county’s elections director, health director, tax administrator, senior service director, transit director, veteran services director and the assistant to the county manager are all females. Out of the county’s 376 employees, 208 are male and 168 are female. The average pay for men is $39,61 and the average pay for females is $39,107.

However, the county has been working in recent years to iron out other inequalities in the county’s pay plan. In 2013, a classification and compensation study was done to evaluate job descriptions and adjust the pay scale after it was found that the county’s salary ranges were about 21 percent lower than its peers. Once implemented, all employees falling below the newly established minimum pay levels were brought up to the new minimum and anyone at or above the new levels received a 2 percent salary increase. 

Making those changes mostly helped those employees who had worked there one to five years, but it still didn’t make a big difference for those with longevity with the county. 

Roland said that immediately created compression within the pay scale — a situation that occurs when there is only a small difference in pay between employees regardless of their skills or experience. 

The county did an in-house county pay study in 2017 using regional comparisons and established and applied a formula across the organization for advancing employees within their current pay grade, based upon their years of service with Macon County. Implementing the study cost the county $621,613.

“The County Pay Study, which was implemented in 2017, made great strides in alleviating compression which was creating inequality within the organization. Following the pay study, we have continued to provide COLA’s and attempted to limit the amount of benefit costs passed down to employees,” Roland said. “Today we have some pay grades that need evaluated, and our pay scale needs some fine tuning in certain areas, but overall Macon County is in great shape with respect to our compensation and benefit package, I’d put ours up against any other local government our size.”

Just like other government agencies, Macon’s 2020-21 budget process has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Roland said the projected impact forced the county to suspend the most recent evaluation of employee pay grades, which was last conducted by Springsted in 2013. The study is being conducted in house. The rising cost of retirement and health insurance benefits has also been a challenge when it comes to spending more money on salaries.

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