10/20/10 — Duplin commission rejects idea of merit pay

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Duplin commission rejects idea of merit pay

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on October 20, 2010 1:46 PM

FAISON -- Duplin County won't consider merit pay for county employees at this time, but will consider the salary schedule for future budget discussions.

Several of the commissioners spoke out on the issue at their meeting Monday at the Faison Wellness Center.

Commissioner Zettie Williams said there is past evidence in the county that merit pay -- a salary increase based on merit rather than longevity -- only works for people who are friends with their supervisors. She made a motion to exclude merit pay and instead study a salary schedule for all employees, and was one of four commissioners who voted in favor of the idea.

"I do not believe in merit pay at this time, because merit pay is not going to solve our problems," Ms. Williams said.

The county has been financially unable to fulfill its salary schedule responsibility to its employees over the last several years, due to the economy, Ms. Williams said. That should be the focus at this time, along with a cost of living increase, she said.

When the county had a merit pay system, a study revealed that the same people received merit pay for several years in a row, Ms. Williams said.

Duplin County employees have not received a cost of living or other pay increase in several years, officials said.

Commissioner Jessie Ladson agreed with Mrs. Williams, adding that "my phone has been ringing off the hook" with calls from citizens concerned about the issue, she said.

"I'm constantly being told if you're not a friend to the supervisor and kiss up to the supervisor, you don't get merit pay," Mrs. Ladson said.

She is against granting merit pay at the present time for that reason, she said.

Commissioner Frances Parks argued in favor of a merit pay system for the county.

"I believe merit pay can work in Duplin County," she said.

She agreed that all the county's employees deserve a cost of living salary increase, but "some also deserve merit pay," she said.

According to Commissioner David Fussell, county staff had been working on developing a way to potentially implement a merit pay system.

The commissioners voted 4-2 in favor of dropping the merit pay issue and instead examining the salary schedule. Ms. Parks and Fussell voted against the motion.

The commissioners later voted 5-1 in favor of supporting County Manager Mike Aldridge's recommendation to hire a 911 center telecommunicator to replace an employee who is no longer with the office. The other workers are currently filling the position by working overtime hours.

The commission's decision to replace employees, rather than allow for attrition, despite the county's hiring freeze is tied into the issue of employee compensation, Fussell said.

"I'm exasperated with the way we are trying to compensate our good employees and we can't," he said. Fussell voted against hiring a new employee to fill the position, and quoted figures about the county's ratio of employees to number of county residents. Fussell reported that Duplin County has one county employee per 99 residents, whereas surrounding counties have about one county employee per 140 residents.

Ms. Parks, however, questioned the accuracy of Fussell's numbers and spoke in favor of filling the position.

"Our manager says we need it. I trust our manager. He says we need it," she said.

Aldridge reported his office is attempting to find accurate figures for the employee-to-resident ratio through the Employment Security Commission.

In other business, Faison area resident Linwood Thompson of the Juniper Road community addressed the board during the public comments, requesting that the county or town pursue means to extend sewer service to the area. There are several residents along Strawberry Patch Road and other roads in the Juniper community that are having sewer problems, he reported.