05/17/07 — Board says yes to $25 increase in lot fee

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Board says yes to $25 increase in lot fee

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 17, 2007 1:53 PM

A "modest fee increase" for Environmental Health services is expected to make the department more competitive in recruiting and retaining workers, officials said Wednesday.

The Board of Health approved a $25 hike for lot evaluations as a way to offset the decline in the number of Environmental Health specialists. Already this year, three employees have left the department, in addition to two who left the previous year.

Officials estimated the cost of losing an employee at about $20,000 each, which translates to $60,000 for this fiscal year.

Health Director James Roosen told the board last month that turnover in that department has been costly. The current salary structure makes it difficult to recruit experienced personnel, he said.

"We haven't gotten applications from anyone who's ever been an environmental specialist already," said Ken Stern, administrative officer for the Health Department.

Interns might be attracted to the job, added Kevin Whitley, environmental health director, but that requires months of training, only to have them move on to new positions.

Exit interviews have shown a variety of reasons employees are leaving, but the primary one is salary. In Wayne County, environmental health specialists earn an average of $5,286 lower than counterparts in surrounding counties, while supervisors earn $11,313 less.

"We know that we can't match a lot of these salaries, but what we do want to do is bump our salaries up so that our experienced staff are competitive," Roosen said.

Several strategies were proposed for retaining workers, including equity adjustments for experienced staff, restructuring intern salaries and offering a hiring bonus for experienced staff.

Roosen said he met recently with county officials to discuss the situation. With the county budget still undecided and salary cuts pending, though, securing additional funding is in question, he said.

"The main problem that we're having is I'm losing about $20,000 every time a trainee walks out the door," he told the board.

He proposed taking a look at other funding options.

A "modest fee increase" would raise the additional revenue needed to get the salaries to a competitive level, he said.

In Wayne County, the fee for lot evaluations is currently at $175, as compared to Johnston County, which charges $250; Pitt and Wilson counties charge $300 for the same service. Sampson and Greene are slightly lower, each at $150.

Raising the rate by $25, putting Wayne at $200, could bring in $20,400 a year in revenues; a $50 increase would net $40,800.

Both options were debated. Board member Ira Thigpen suggested the $50 increase, but after several board members said they could not support it, he adapted the motion to reflect the $25 figure.

All except board member Donna Edmundson voted in favor of the motion.

Mrs. Edmundson said in her 11 years on the board, this is the third time the issue has arisen.

"I don't want to Band-aid the problem," she explained.

Roosen said the situation could be addressed on a "year by year, budget by budget" basis.

Board member Efton Sager, a county commissioner, also expressed concerns about the issue, which isn't limited to the Health Department.

"This is not the only area in the county we're having turnover," he said. "EMS and a lot of other areas are having this problem. ... You must know that the county is really struggling not to have a tax increase."