Buncombe County employs 1,420 employees. These 1,420 individuals are some of the most hardworking, innovative, compassionate professionals working in any county government around the country. Such professionals deserve to be fairly compensated for their excellent service. Furthermore, strong compensation packages are good business in terms of retaining strong staff and being able to compete for the best talent.
The dance of any government employer is to be competitive in the job market and fair to employees while remembering who ultimately funds the paychecks, the taxpaying citizens, not local government officials. Such stewardship requires a delicate balance between determining appropriate compensation that attracts a quality workforce while not being out of step with comparable markets and our community.
This is why the Board of County Commissioners directed staff in the June adoption of the 2011-12 budget to do a compensation study to determine how Buncombe County was doing in this dance.
While we await this data, I recently learned of undisclosed additional, longevity payments to employees. This is troubling on a number of levels. Two of the guiding principles in my platform for county commissioner were transparency and stewardship, and in this spirit I share with the public the following memo I drafted for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.
To: David Gantt, Chair
Ray Bailey, Commissioner
Carol Peterson, Commissioner
Bill Stanley, Commissioner
Cc: Wanda Greene, County Manager
Michael Frue. County Attorney
Date: December 2, 2011
Subject: Additional Longevity Payment for Buncombe County Employees
With great disappointment and surprise I learned that additional longevity payments totaling $541,600 had occurred without being publicly discussed or formally approved by the Board of Commissioners. As a commissioner, it is my expectation that the adopted personnel policies are adhered to and if an exception to the published policies is warranted, this expectation will be publicly vetted. I am further disturbed that the additional longevity pay was budgeted in a year when the board adopted a budget with an unprecedented allocation of fund balance. This half a million-dollar exception was not highlighted during the budget process.
Furthermore, even more problematic is that this aberration to policy occurred prior to the completion of a comprehensive compensation study. In the absence of this report, I developed the following table with critical benchmarks of other comparable NC counties. While the findings speak for themselves, I will highlight the most problematic items.
The longevity plan that the majority of Buncombe County employees qualify for is excessive in comparison to the NC counties we benchmark with. Prior to the additional 1% longevity payment, the largesse Buncombe County provides employees that have served over five years far exceeds the nearest benchmarked county.
Many counties are phasing longevity plans out and others cap this benefit. Our neighbors Henderson and Madison have no longevity plan.
No other county has a tiered system. This approach of dealing with excessive benefits creates an unequal workplace. It is unfair. For the most part, those employees most recently hired will have the lowest wages and thus receive the least amount of bonus.
Finally, in a year when our county has experienced unprecedented public criticism regarding excessive salaries, it is astounding that this decision was made and made out of the public sphere. An employee of 15 years making $100,000+ would receive $6000. While such supplement may exist in education, this is highly unusual in the private, non-for profit and other arenas of local government.
Our board needs to publicly discuss all of theses items.
Please note that when a percentage is indicated, I have included an example of what the bonus would amount to in dollars for a $50,000 salary, since the average longevity payment was $1547. …
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