Brittney Raby – Staff Writer
Each January, Macon County officials begin the year with a budget review of the first six months of the fiscal year and evaluate the projections for the second half. Last Tuesday, Macon County commissioners met with county staff to begin the annual budget process and establish goals for the coming fiscal year.
With Macon County working to reduce the county’s existing debt load, which continued to decrease this year despite the county taking on additional capital projects, Macon County Manager Derek Roland believes that, paired with conservative and fiscally responsible budgeting measures, the county is prepared to tackle several new initiatives in the coming year. Debt projects decreased this fiscal year by $465,765 and the county realized a seven percent growth in fund balance giving the county a high degree of financial security which is unmatched in this region as well as across the state of North Carolina.
Looking toward the coming year and planning for the budget process, Roland outlined his priorities to commissioners last Tuesday.
“In FY ‘16-‘17, I expect expenditure ratios to remain much the same, with our highest priorities being placed on public safety, education and services provided by the general government respectively,” said Roland. “It is important to note that while Human Services represents $12,384,000 or 27 percent of expenditures, only approximately $3.7 million of this is county dollars.”
Roland’s biggest focus in the upcoming budget year centers around making sure that the county’s longest serving employees are receiving salaries comparable to their counterparts in positions across the state.
About four years ago, a compensation study was conducted by Springsted and showed that when compared to other counties, employee compensation in Macon County, from beginning positions and new hires to employees serving 30-plus years, were far below market average. Seventy-nine benchmark positions reflecting a cross section of county employees were selected for evaluation. Requested information included minimum/maximum and actual wages as well as additional compensation for the 79 benchmark positions. The survey was sent to 11 counties and two cities that were geographically and demographically similar to Macon County.
The county acted quickly to implement the first phase of the compensation study, which ensured that new hires and positions were fairly compensated and were brought up to market value.
“The portions of the Springsted pay plan which were implemented did exactly what they were intended to do,” said Roland. “Budget constraints however following implementation of Options 1 and 2 including uncertainty surrounding the revaluation and the need to repair a failing health insurance plan, forced us to have to put compensation discussions on the back burner. This, in turn, has created lingering compensation issues.”
According to Roland, the employees affected the most are the long-serving employees. “Many of these employees are at the supervisor and department head level,” said Roland. “They have gained much knowledge and experience during their tenure here and are extremely valuable to our operation. They are the decision makers. Those long-serving employees not in supervisory or department head positions are just as valuable as they are often ‘boots on the ground’ who are tasked with delivering the services to the public; they are the face of Macon County.”
Debbie George, who serves as the county’s Board of Elections Director, spoke to commissioners and said that based on the county’s current pay scale, if she were to be hired at Macon County today, she would be making nearly as much as a new hire would make just beginning their career, and George has worked for BOE since 2003 and has served as director since 2014.
“While Macon County’s number of registered voters exceeds that of the three county peer group by more than 100 registered voters, Mrs. George’s annual salary is $11,451 below the average and the Deputy Director is $6,018 below the average,” Roland explained.
Macon County employees in terms of total compensation, make on average $9,472 below the state of North Carolina employee.
“Just as important as knowledge or experience is loyalty,” said Roland. “These folks are loyal to Macon County. They do what they do because they believe in public service and have a desire to make this county a better place.”
Roland asked the board to allow him to assemble a committee of county employees to begin the process of using the Springsted Study as a tool to help begin looking at options to remedy the situation. “Should it be the pleasure of the board, I would strongly recommend that we take a look at employee compensation in the coming fiscal year,” said Roland. “I have said time and time again and I will continue to say that Macon County employees are the most valuable asset this organization has. Just as we work to make sure our buildings are in good repair and we are keeping up with the latest advancements in technology, I feel it is just as important that we make sure our employees are compensated appropriately.”