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Commissioners consider employee raises, compensation

By Karissa Minn
kminn@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — In a split vote Tuesday, county commissioners decided to wait to explore recognition programs until the county’s financial situation is clear.
Commissioner Jon Barber brought up the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.
Barber said the county has gotten ahead of the curve by gradually reducing the size of government as soon as the recent recession hit. Because of that, he said, the county has been able to avoid massive layoffs and tax increases, and it has kept a healthy fund balance.
But county employees have had no pay increases, cost-of-living adjustments or reclassifications in the past three years, he said. They also have been asked to take furlough days and pay higher health insurance deductibles.
“Our employees understand that these are tough economic times, and they are thankful to have a job,” Barber said. “But we need to demonstrate to our employees that we value their services and we appreciate what they have done to contribute to the financial success of our bottom line.”
He said the county should be ahead of the curve when the economy recovers, to avoid high turnover rates it has had in the past.
Currently, county employees receive service award gift cards for every five years of service. The county could increase service award gifts, Barber said, or pay them every year after 10 years.
Other options Barber offered include giving employees a one-time bonus, more vacation or comp time, paid dental insurance or reinstated funding reclassifications.
Barber made a motion to appoint a committee to look at various options and make recommendations to the board. He also asked commissioners to set a cost limit.
Commissioner Raymond Coltrain seconded the motion.
“There are ways to say ‘thank you’ that don’t necessarily require a dollar bill, and we should at least do that,” Coltrain said.
Barber’s motion failed 2-3, but Commissioners Carl Ford and Chad Mitchell asked county staff to look into the cost of one of his suggestions — giving in an employee a day off on their birthday or a personal day.
Commissioner Jim Sides said he could agree with that, and the request passed unanimously.
Sides said he’d rather wait to look at the other options until the county gets its official audit report for the last fiscal year.
He said the economy is “a long way” from getting better, and he hopes the county doesn’t have to take money from its employees to give to the schools, which will lose federal stimulus money next year.
“I appreciate every employee Rowan County has,” Sides said. “A few years back when growth in the county was 3 or 4 percent a year, it was easy to justify raises, and it was easy to justify benefit increases. But now, when there is no growth, we can’t.”
Ford and Mitchell agreed to wait, saying they don’t want to approve a program — or even a committee — only to deny it soon after because the county can’t afford it.
“I’ll be the first one in line, when somebody convinces me this economy has turned around, to give our employees a raise,” Ford said. “I know they deserve it.”
Mitchell said that rather than across-the-board raises, he’d rather direct whatever limited funds the county has to employees whose pay has fallen below market level.
“We’ve been hiring dozens — if not hundreds — of employees at market, who are making more than employees who have been working five, 10 and in some cases more than 15 years,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to work to fix that, but we just have to be able to put a dollar figure to it.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Twitter: twitter.com/postcopolitics
Facebook: facebook.com/Karissa.SalisburyPost

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