05/20/08 — Duplin commissioners weigh options for increasing salaries

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Duplin commissioners weigh options for increasing salaries

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 20, 2008 1:48 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Minimum salaries for Duplin County government employees lag behind the average of those in surrounding communities, while salaries on the upper end of the pay scale are more in line with those in the same communities sampled for the study.

The good news, it won't cost as much as anticipated to implement the plan to equalize them.

Those were among the findings of a salary and job classification study unveiled Monday morning before Duplin County commissioners.

Commissioners weren't the only ones anxious to hear about the study -- the meeting room in the county's social services building was packed with county department heads and employees. The meeting had been moved from the commissioners' normal and smaller meeting room to the larger area because of the anticipated interest.

Implementing the plan will not cost the $2 million that county officials had originally anticipated.

The county actually has three options and associated costs:

*Minimum or one step all employees onto the new salary schedule. This option would cost an estimated $559,577 or about the annual cost equivalent to 3.45 percent of payroll.

*Place all employees on the new salary schedule in the same step as current. Employees would be placed on the closest pay step to their existing pay step. This option would cost an estimated $925,865 or about the annual cost equivalent of 5.7 percent of payroll.

*Not adopt the plan.

County Manager Mike Aldridge said the costs would actually be about 30 percent higher once benefits are included.

No salary specifics were discussed during the presentation by Ed Burchins and Ann Antonsen, vice presidents with Springsted, the company that conducted the study. That portion of the study is expected to be released during budget workshops later this week.

"I saw this (plan) for the first time last week," Aldridge said. "Department heads and employees have not seen it yet."

The study looked at 87 positions ranging from county manager to secretaries.

Duplin County averaged about 8 percent below average in the minimum salary range; 5.43 percent below average in the mid-point salary range; and 3.82 percent below average in the maximum salary range.

The study compared positions in Duplin County government with comparable one in Bladen, Jones, Lenoir, Onslow, Pender, Sampson and Wayne counties, as well the cities of Clinton, Jacksonville and Kinston and the towns of Kenansville and Mount Olive.

Burchins said the plan's objectives were to review and evaluate the county's current pay and classification plan; develop a plan that addresses market competitiveness; and review and develop administrative guidelines for the implementation and maintenance of the plan.

Ms. Antonsen said fewer people are going into public service jobs making it important that salaries be competitive.

Not offering competitive salaries and being unable to retain employees costs the county in more ways than just salary, she said.

Once an employee leaves, it costs the county to advertise for a replacement. There is also a cost factor in terms of training and lost productivity, she said.

Burchins said the county should have a merit system that rewards employees based on their job duties and responsibilities and not on whether they are "friendly, nice or clean."

"Tie it more back to the jobs that they do," he said.

Aldridge said the state was recommending 4 percent salary increases.

"It has been a long time since Duplin County has done that," he said.

Aldridge said Duplin's increases had averaged about 2 percent over the past several years.

In terms of fringe benefits, the county is on par with some employers, but below average with others.

For example, in terms of employee insurance the county is consistent with other employers. It ranks above average in employee plus coverage. Duplin pays 74 percent of the premium for employee/spouse compared to the average of 51 percent paid by the other employers. It pays 74 percent for employee/children compared to the average of 63 percent paid by other employees.

The county ranks below average in family coverage paying 43 percent compared to the average of 49 percent.

The county is below average in paid holidays offering nine compared to the average of 12.

One of the recommendations of the plan was a centralized human resources office to handle human resource issues.

Burchins said the plan must address any internal pay equity and that it must "stay in touch" to be fair and equitable compared to the marketplace.

He said county employees who were interviewed during the study were not only dedicated, but enjoyed their jobs.

Aldridge said the plan will be looked at in more detail Wednesday during the first of three budget work sessions commissioners will hold. The sessions will be held Wednesday through Friday at 9 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room.

"We are getting up against the wall in terms of time," Aldridge said of implementing the plan.

The cost of the plan was not included in Aldridge's draft budget proposal that is $6 million out of balance. The draft did not include any monies from the fund balance.

A public hearing on the budget will be held Monday, June 2, at 6 p.m. at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service building.