06/09/08 — Duplin officials bicker over employees' pay raise formula

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Duplin officials bicker over employees' pay raise formula

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 9, 2008 1:57 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County's proposed $1 million pay plan was shredded after running into a buzz saw even before the public had a chance to voice its opinions at a hearing on the county's $48 million budget proposal.

By a 4-2 vote commissioners scraped implementation of the plan and instead opted to give employees a 4 percent across-the-board pay hike after questions were raised about the pay plan.

That vote wasn't the only monkey wrench commissioners lobbed into their budget.

Commissioners also voted 4-2 to eliminate $295,000 in restricted-use funds for the county's public schools until it can be determined whether or not the county can fund the entire $750,000 that had been requested. Commissioners L.S. Guy and Reginald Wells cast the dissenting votes in both cases.

Guy added an amendment to Commissioner Zettie Williams' motion to cut the funds. Guy asked that the board table action on the restricted funds. It failed by a 2-4 vote with Wells and Guy voting "yes."

"Mr. Chairman, we all knew this was coming," Wells said to Commissioner Chairman Harold Raynor. "Authorize a fair plan, it doesn't matter if we saw it Friday or today. It is totally frustrating. We try to make two steps forward and we take three steps backwards."

The pay plan was not on the agenda but had been added by Commissioner Cary Turner.

"People at Hardee's have been telling me about people getting pay raises," Raynor said. "Somebody knew because when I looked at the figures they were right."

County Manager Mike Aldridge said he had not publicized the plan, but had sent copies to county department heads a week before Monday's meeting. He apologized to commissioners for not getting the plan to them sooner.

He added that he had cautioned departments heads that the plan was just a recommendation and subject to change.

Commissioners expressed concern that they had not seen the plan prior to department heads and the June 2 meeting. And they wanted Aldridge to talk with officials of Springstead, the consulting firm that conducted the pay plan study, before the board voted on it. Aldridge argued that there was not enough time since to do so since the budget has to be approved before the end of the month.

He said that the company should have completed its work in April and not May when the plan was first presented to the county

Originally, it had been anticipated that implementing the plan would cost the county about $1.4 million.

"This (proposal) is a hybrid plan that will fit the funding we have," Aldridge said. "We developed this by giving everybody at least a modest increase."

The hybrid plan has a $1 million price tag and represents about a 5 percent increase in the current payroll.

To make it work within the $1 million, the top 10 percent of the county's employees would receive about one-half of what had been recommended in the original plan.

In response to questioning by Guy, Aldridge said the plan is about $800,000 more than what is budgeted in the current year for salaries. He said trimming the project cost from $1.4 million to $1 million had allowed him to return the difference to the county's fund balance.

The county had been expected to use $4 million from that fund to balance the budget but was able to reduce the amount to $3.5 million.

Guy said he hated to adopt something that was "grossly unfair."

Aldridge responded, "If it is unfair, it is unfair to upper managers."

However, he said that managers look after their staffs and wanted them to have salary increases.

Turner said "word was already getting out" that some employees were getting $345 more while some were getting $1,300. He expressed concern that could make it appear as if commissioners were doing something similar to how the school board had handled supplements -- a controversy that created ill will toward the school board.

Turner said the board might should have looked at implementing the pay plan over a period of time.

Aldridge said that had been looked at, but that it would have been a departure from what had been recommended. That was why the plan had been made to fit the money, he said.

Turner also said he was concerned that Monday was the first time the board had seen the proposal. Friday was the earliest it was available in its current form, Aldridge said.

Turner said he did not see how the board could be expected to act on the plan on such short notice. Aldridge said the board would face that same short notice again on June 19 when it is supposed to approve the budget

It was then that Turner made a motion, seconded by Mrs. Williams, for the 4 percent increase until the board could work through the plan.

Aldridge said the problem with the 4 percent increase would be that every employee would be in a "locked step" that would not take into account whether or not the job level warranted more pay.

Aldridge said the vote changed the complexion of the budget and would require it to be reworked since it reduces the budget by about $180,000.

Following the vote on the pay plan, Mrs. Williams brought up the issue of school funding.

As originally proposed, the budget earmarked $750,000 in restricted-use funds for the public schools. These funds could be utilized only for specified uses. The final draft had cut that amount to $295,984

Mrs. Williams said she wanted the $295,984 removed until such time as the county could come up with the original amount.

Guy called it "a terrible mistake" to even consider such an action.

"That is going backwards," he said.

Such action, he said, could endanger the county's eligibility for state low-wealth funding.

Mrs. Williams refused to budge and said the county needed to study the issue until it could figure out a way to fund the full amount.