12/19/08 — Duplin commissioners eye problems with keeping employees, recruiting

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Duplin commissioners eye problems with keeping employees, recruiting

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on December 19, 2008 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County government is losing workers to higher-paying counties, department managers told county commissioners this week, and the county needs to do something about the problem.

Social Services Director Millie Brown said she holds her breath when she hears about another one of her employees going to a job interview.

"In a couple weeks, they're gone," she told commissioners during a work session Monday. The session was called to discuss implementing a pay plan recommended by a salary study.

"When the fast learners and those with skills find out what surrounding counties are paying, they're gone. The county has to spend a lot of money training new people. And when the new ones are finished training, they're gone, too. I think it will cost us more if we don't do something," Mrs. Brown said.

Every employee in the county's Solid Waste Department is working a second job to make ends meet, department manager Bee Barnette said.

"The employees are afraid they're going to be laid off, and word's got out that somebody wants to come in and take over our system," he told commissioners.

The salaries of many county employees lag behind surrounding counties, but commissioners have yet to agree on a way to tackle the problem.

They have deadlocked several times when raising pay was brought to a vote.

It would take about $130,000 to make Duplin's pay comparable to surrounding counties for the rest of the fiscal year, County Manager Mike Aldridge said.

But the question that kept coming up during the meeting was "Where is the money going to come from?"

Commissioner David Fussell said the problem is that the county has too many employees -- a hundred too many, he said.

That prevents commissioners from raising the pay of the best workers, he added.

If the commissioners vote to raise pay, it will cost about a cent on the tax rate, Fussell noted.

"These are tough times, and we are going to have to make tough choices," he said.

County Commissioner Chairman Cary Turner said if he were a department head, he would rather make budget cuts himself than have commissioners do it.

"Maybe we need a company to come in and tell us we have too many employees," he said. "We need a company to come tell us our weaknesses and our strengths. There's no getting around the cuts. Come January, we are going to have some tough issues."

But most departmental budgets have already been cut to the bone, Mrs. Brown told the commissioners.

Commissioner Reginald Wells made a motion to implement the study.

"These are challenging times," he said. "It's going to take extraordinary measures. It's up or down, and we need to take the (political) heat that comes along with it."

Commissioner Frances Parks seconded the motion. Turner voted with Wells and Mrs. Parks to implement the study. Fussell, Zettie Williams and Harold Raynor voted against the measure.

"I get two and three e-mails each day from citizens saying, 'Don't consider raising taxes,'" Raynor said. "We're going to have to cut or raise taxes. I'd like to give everybody a raise. I think we need to put this is Mike's hands and, if he can work it out, fine."

Ms. Williams made a motion to meet with department heads and find ways to cut out the $130,000 needed to implement the salary study. Raynor seconded the motion. But the vote again was a tie, with Wells, Fussell and Turner dissenting.

Mrs. Parks then moved to have Aldridge meet with the department heads to find places to cut out the $130,000. Raynor again seconded the motion. But they were the only "yes" votes.

Commissioners should know what the cuts are going to be before they vote on the motion, Fussell said.

"You can't continue to take out of the emergency fund," he said. "And it's going to get worse between January and June."