How salaries stack up in local governments

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Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

With the annual budget process right around the corner, county leaders across the state are beginning to review budgets and make decisions that show a commitment to providing efficient services to citizens and continued improvement to infrastructure all while balancing a budget and keeping taxes low and operations moving.

Personnel expenses are the bulk of most any budget, and with both Macon County government and the Town of Franklin recently implementing salary hikes for government employees, a look at how the salary of top ranking employees of different governing bodies stack up will prove to be a significant piece of the budget. The comparison will also show that some officials aren’t paid the same as their counterparts in neighboring counties, despite efforts to ensure that their employees are.

Macon County News completed a survey of 15 department heads in both Macon and Jackson County which includes the County Manager, Social Services Director, Human Resource Director, Sheriff, Public Health Director, Transit Director, Solid Waste Director, Board of Elections Director, Finance Director, IT Director, Planning Director, Parks and Recreation Director, Senior Services,Tax Administration, and Economic Development.

For the purpose of this comparison, years of experience reflects years of experience in the position, not overall years of positions in terms of career.

Macon County: The 15 department heads surveyed in Macon County’s combined salaries is $1,134,063.80.

Jackson County: The combined salaries in Jackson County totals $1,226,430.30.

Macon County: Combined, Macon County department heads have 153 years of experience.

Jackson County: Combined, Jackson County department heads have 138.5 years of experience.

Macon County: Departments heads are directly responsible for 395 employees.

Jackson County: Department heads are responsible for 302 employees.

In a position-to-position salary comparison, 11 out of 15 department heads in Jackson County were paid more than their Macon County counterparts, while at the same time, 11 out of 15 department heads in Macon County had more years of experience and nine managed more employees than their Jackson County counterpart.

While the survey showed that the majority of Macon County department heads had more experience, more employees, and were paid less, in the instance of the Board of Health Director, Macon County’s Board of Health Director was the only position in which the department head had more years of experience, more employees, and was paid more.

The four Macon County department heads earning more than their Jackson County counterparts are;

• Human Resource Director Mike Decker, $66,500 and six years experience compared to Jackson County’s Danielle Wittekind, $61,635.34 and four years experience;

• Board of Health Director Jim Bruckner, $93,616 and 10 years experience compared to Jackson County’s Shelley Carraway, $85,270.38 and less than one year experience;

•  Macon County Transit Director Kim Angel, $55,839 and 16 years experience compared to Jackson County’s Chuck Norris, $54,996.08 and 17 years experience; and

• Macon County Solid Waste Director Chris Stahl, $83,585 and 16 years experience compared to Jackson County’s Chad Parker, $76,745.50 with 10 years experience.

Macon County’s top five highest paid employees are 

• County Manager Derek Roland, $120,000, four years experience;

• Finance Director Lori Hall, $98,838, six years experience;

• Public Health Director Jim Bruckner, $93,616, 10 years experience;

• Tax Administrator Richard Lightner, $91,262, 32 years experience; and

• Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland, $83,585, 15 years experience; is tied for fifth with Macon County Solid Waste Director Chris Stahl, $83,585, 16 years experience.

Jackson County’s top five highest paid employees are Finance Director Darlene Fox, $134,462.64, 36 years experience; County Manager Don Adams, $125,010, less than a year experience; Tax Administrator Bobby McMahan, $97,192.42, 13 years experience; Department of Social Services Director Jennifer Abshire, $86,975.72, less than a year experience; and Jackson County Sheriff Chip Hall, $86,180.64, three years experience.

In Macon County, Sheriff Robert Holland is responsible for the most employees (100) and has the third most years of experience compared to the other department heads, but in terms of pay, ranks 11th and has more years of experience in his position than all but one of the department heads who earn more. Positions earning more than the sheriff, with fewer years experience include the finance director (six years), county manager (four years), Planning Director (nine years), and Board of Health Director (10 years).

In Jackson County, Sheriff Chip Hall’s department is the largest in terms of employees (74). Hall has served as the Sheriff for three years, meaning seven of the other department heads have more years of experience and three share his three years of experience ranking. Out of the 10 positions that have more experience or the same years of experience than Hall, Hall earns a higher salary than seven of them. The three positions that have more experience and are paid more than Hall are the finance director, 36 years experience; IT Director, 12  years experience; and Tax Administrator, 13 years experience.

Comparing municipalities   

While county government positions are similar, serving comparable demographics and offering similar services, municipal governments often function differently and fund positions based on need and necessity.

A survey of The Town of Highlands, the Town of Franklin, and the Town of Sylva, the three municipalities have four positions in common, Town manager, Public Works Director, Finance Officer, and Police Chief.

In all four positions, the town of Highlands paid more than both Sylva and Franklin.

Town Manager: $101,000 in Highlands with less than a year’s experience; $86,6998.98 in Franklin with three years of experience; and $67,615 in Sylva with five years experience.

Public Works Director: $100,818 in Highlands with 22 years experience; $75,048.68 in Franklin with 35 years experience; and $60,160 in Sylva with 13 years experience.

Finance Officer: $80,766 in Highlands with two years experience; $66,176.10 in Franklin with two years experience; and $69,645 in Sylva with 24 years experience.

Police Chief: $63,232 in Highlands with 11.5  years experience; $71,163.50 in Franklin with five years experience; and $55,933 in Sylva with 28 years experience.

Both Franklin and Highlands both employ a Human Resource Officer, while in Sylva, that duty falls under the responsibility of the Town Manager. Highlands’ Human Resource officer earns $55,744 a year and has 4.5 years experience; while Franklin’s earns $52,750 and has been in the position for less than a year.

Franklin and Highlands also both employ Planning Directors, with the Highlands position earning $32.33 an hour, with 13 years experience; and Franklin’s earning $57,601.44 with three years experience.

Highlands and Franklin both have full-time Fire Chief’s, while the town of Sylva’s fire department is completely comprised of volunteers. Jackson County does cover the salary of one paid employee at the Sylva Fire Department, but that position is not a chief. Highlands pays their fire chief $48,006 with six years experience and Franklin pays theirs $72,455 with less than a year on the job.

Both Franklin and Sylva employ tax collectors/assessors. Franklin pays the position $41,142 with eight years experience, while Sylva pays $46,075 for the position with three years experience.

While Highlands pays an IT Director position $73,466 a year with six years experience, Franklin’s position falls under the responsibilities of the town planning director and Sylva elects to contract with National Communications Inc. out of Franklin for their services.

Of the three municipalities, Highlands is the only one to employ a parks and recreation director, who has five years experience and earns $62,878.

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