05/14/04 — Regional agency advances proposal to raise employee pay

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Regional agency advances proposal to raise employee pay

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on May 14, 2004 2:03 PM

KINSTON -- The directors of a regional government agency, which includes Wayne County, raised salaries for its workers over the objection of some of its board members.

A split vote of the board of directors of the Eastern Carolina Council Thursday night at King's Restaurant gave a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment to all its employees and another 3 percent raise to those who work with the elderly. The decision will now go before the general board on June 10.

The original proposal was to raise the salary of those working with the elderly by 10 percent and give everyone a 1 percent cost-of-living raise.

The budget committee, however, had proposed giving only a 1 percent cost-of-living increase and no more.

The council does things like submit grant applications on behalf of organizations within its membership area like the Boys & Girls Club.

The council's region spans nine counties: Wayne, Duplin, Lenoir, Green, Jones, Onslow, Craven, Pamlico and Carteret.

It's the second largest council of governments in the state, after Raleigh's region. That puts the council in competition with Raleigh for keeping good people on board, some officials say.

Executive Director Larry Moolenaar said he was trying to correct a big salary discrepancy between the council's people who work with the elderly and those who work on other projects like land-use and transportation planning. The Area Agency on Aging does things like investigate complaints against nursing homes.

The council's president, Joe Himbry of the Bayboro town council, advocated for the 10 percent raise and giving everybody else a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment.

"If we can keep talent here, let's do so, but we don't have a lot of resources," said Himbry. "... We're not on par with the people around us."

The state has cut money out of the Aging budgets, and when that happens, services are cut, not salaries, said Sondra Riggs, a member of the budget committee and the Jones County commissioners. She opposed the salary increase.

People in eastern North Carolina are losing jobs, she said.

In its recommendation for the lower raise, the budget committee said other governments are cutting jobs.

"The Council of Governments pays more in salary and dental, hospitalization and retirement than any job I know of in any county I know of," Ms. Riggs said.

The counties in the region are struggling, agreed Oscar Herring, a budget committee member and a Lenoir County commissioner.

"We are in hard times," he said.

Herring moved to give a 1 percent cost of living adjustment to everybody, and Ms. Riggs gave the second.

Arnold Flowers, the council's treasurer and a Wayne County commissioner, suggested a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for everybody, and adding 3 percent for the Aging people.

The most costly thing for the council would be to lose them and have to train someone else to take their places, he said.

The compromise vote of 7 to 4 gave the six Aging employees a total increase of 5 percent and 2 percent to everybody else. The four who voted against it were Herring, Ms. Riggs, W.C. Jarman of Onslow County and Paul Edgerton of Swansboro.

Moolenaar said the 5 percent raise for the Aging people would cost about $10,000. If passed, it will not affect the overall budget, because it has already been included in the cost of administration.

He said this morning that he's pleased with the compromise. The salaries will be more in line with the other jobs in the council and with those in surrounding councils.

"We've got a good team," he said. "Nobody has threatened to leave. We're happy with the results."