11/13/11 — Where does your money go?

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Where does your money go?

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on November 13, 2011 1:50 AM

Updated 1/3/12

Budget revisions in what Goldsboro Mayor Al King called "the 11th hour" of the budget season freed up an extra $308,429 in the city's general fund in June -- funds that were budgeted into increasing the salary of the city manager as agreed in Scott Stevens' contract, pursuing a public information officer for the city and salary adjustments for all city employees.

The extra funds were realized through the county's property revaluation, an increase in golf course fees and the elimination of two golf course positions, but the $200,000 budgeted for salary adjustments wasn't enough for a permanent cost-of-living adjustment or merit raise, even when coupled with $100,000 from the utility fund to assist with increasing the salaries of employees in the city's utilities division.

Data discussed after approving this year's budget showed that a full-year, 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise would require $500,000 to implement for the 2012-13 budget, while a merit-based raise would cost $568,000. The city has done away with longevity salary increases, and hasn't had a salary increase in that manner since December 2008. The last cost-of-living adjustment was in January 2009 and the last merit raise went into effect in January 2010.

"We've done some version of a raise most years to move our pay forward," Stevens said.

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But with the city's budget only allowing for an additional $300,000 for more than 450 employees, this year will be the second year in a row that staff members won't get a permanent raise. A taxable $750 bonus was distributed the first week of August -- a payment Stevens said wasn't great but was a good effort by the city to help out its employees.

"It's nice because you feel it, but long-term it doesn't keep. It's a one-time expense for the city," he said.

The bonus is especially important since there was a 5 percent increase in health insurance premiums beginning July 1. Human Resources Director Faye Reeves said the one-time payment should help to offset the increase in that cost.

"We're always looking at retaining our staff. There are some morale concerns when you work and don't get raises," she said.

Ms. Reeves said most employees are aware of the revenue issues preventing the city from continuing permanent pay increases, mostly because the city tries to be transparent with its dealings with its staff.

"For the most part, most of them understand," she said. "We try to share information with them in hopes that the more they know, the more they'll understand."

Still, with the budget calling for $1 million in attrition to keep it balanced, departments that were already having to do more with less are now being asked to maintain services with fewer staff members, too.

The City Council has asked all departments to wait 30 days following a vacancy before even considering filling it to allow time for the department to determine how necessary each position is. Departments are being encouraged to seek opportunities to "restructure," which essentially means finding ways to share the work that a missing staff member would do among others, usually supervisors.

Department heads are also questioned as to whether the positions can be held open to contribute to the budgeted attrition. The city is ahead of its goal one-fourth of the way through the year, Ms. Reeves said, having saved $270,000 of its quarter of a million dollar goal.

Ms. Reeves also said department heads are willing to go along with the plan for attrition, too, since it provides an alternative to eliminating positions and layoffs.

"All of the department heads have said if that's what we have to do, we'll do it. I haven't heard any department heads grumbling. It's a high goal, but in doing that we can retain staff," she said.

But the extra work left over from 14 positions still frozen from last year's budget, on top of additional duties from more unfilled positions, is adding up for city employees, Ms. Reeves said, and has led to some frustration over additional work without pay increases.

"We are starting to run into that (frustration) with trying to meet attrition, so we're not giving the full load to people. No one person is talking on all of the load," she said.

Wayne County Human Resources Director Sue Guy said the county has similar policies in place to ensure positions that are filled during this time of economic strain are fully justified.

"If we have a safety sensitive position, like a paramedic or a patrol officer, we fill those immediately, but beyond those are positions that are all frozen. If someone leaves, the department head has to document justification and then we might say we need to hold that position depending on how critical that position is."

The extra work likely piles up for county employees as well, but Mrs. Guy said there's likely a similar understanding of what dire situation the county's revenue stream is in.

"For many of our employees, local government is a calling, so they understand it's a service organization," she said.

Still, county salaries haven't grown as fast as in years past, either. The last cost-of-living adjustment for county salaries was in December 2010, the first such adjustment since July 2001.

"It's a little unusual to do one mid-year, but we didn't think we could afford a full year," Mrs. Guy said.

She stressed that didn't mean no county employees had gotten raises, but "across-the-board" permanent increases in pay have been given solely when finances allow. The county approved a merit increase in February of this year, another move that strayed from the norm as most salary increases are implemented at the beginning of the fiscal year in July.

Longevity benefits are still in place at the county, though it is a different system than the one in the city. Each November after an employee has been with the county for five years, an additional percentage of a paycheck, based on the number of years the employee has worked, is awarded for longevity pay as a means of a holiday bonus.

The county also recently voted to extend the contract of County Manager Lee Smith by six years. Smith is paid an annual salary of $182,100. He also receives an additional $12,000 annually in travel allowance that is built into that salary, although that $1,000 a month is taxable. Smith has been in his position since December 2001.

Goldsboro's recent manager hire required the additional approval of $20,880, bringing Stevens' annual salary to $150,000. Including the salary of the to-be-hired public information officer, that brings the salary total of the five positions within the city manager office budget to more than $350,000.

Stevens said he, the assistant city manager, city clerk and deputy city clerk all stay busy, though -- evidence that the department is not overstaffed. He said the role of the public information officer will not be simply answering phones, but will take a proactive approach to getting the city's message out to the public through various media.

And although the creation of the position looks to be related to the cutting of two golf course positions in a time when no other positions are being created, Ms. Reeves said the two moves meet separate needs.

The council had been voicing concern over the golf course losing money in recent years, so the elimination of the two full-time positions in exchange for seasonal positions, coupled with the $1 greens fee increase, served to bring the course closer to the black.

The council has also been discussing the need for a public information officer for years, she said.

Stevens, who admitted he wasn't privy to the years of discussion about the position since he began work in August, said the direct results of having a public information officer are less tangible than those of other staff members, like firefighters and police officers, but are still important. Kinston, where Stevens was city manager until coming to Goldsboro this summer, had a public information officer beginning in 1998, but the position was eliminated due to budgetary constraints at the time after the individual filling it resigned to accept another position closer to home in 2000.

Stevens said promoting what the city is doing is a small percentage of what he and his staff do, and the city's hope is that the public information officer would help with getting the city's story out. The public information officer will draft press releases and promotional letters to be included in utility mailings, as well as interact with the public through social media.

The position is likely to be filled at the beginning of 2012, meaning only half of the salary provided for in the budget will be utilized.

Although he says the position will have added benefits for citizens, Stevens stressed that the main goal of government in lean economic times is to continue to provide the same level of service to citizens. With about $21 million of the city's $31 million budget tied up in salaries, he said, there's not much room for cuts without eliminating positions, which has the potential to impact services directly.

The council has also instructed Stevens to move forward with the hiring of a permanent police chief. The search is scheduled to begin this month. Interim Police Chief Jeff Stewart has acted as police chief since Tim Bell retired March 1.

Beyond those two positions, however, the council has asked for Ms. Reeves to request approval of each position individually before being advertised externally. Three positions within the Public Works Department, one at Parks and Recreation and another in Information Technology were approved at the Oct. 10 council meeting where Ms. Reeves presented the positions as necessary to sustaining the city's level of service.