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Some county workers will soon see bump in pay

A select group of county employees in three departments will soon start receiving a bit more money in every paycheck.
Rowan County commissioners on Monday reinstated a career development program for three county departments in an effort to slow down a trend of employees leaving for higher paying jobs. The board of commissioners approved nearly $70,000 in raises when calculated over one year. An overwhelming majority of the increase would go to the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.
The measure, proposed by Commissioners Mike Caskey and Chad Mitchell, was a reinstatement of a previous program canceled in 2009 because of budget constraints. The program gives county employees raises after completing certain job-related certificates or earning additional college degrees. It passed 4-1, with Chairman Jim Sides casting the only no vote.
Sides said his vote shouldn’t be interpreted as being against the merit increases, but rather as a vote for including other county departments in the raise programs.
“It’s not fair to implement a plan until you have a plan for everybody,” Sides said during the meeting. “It’s completely unfair to have a program that rewards one sector of our employees and does not reward the others. I just can’t vote for that.”
Only the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, Environmental Health and Information Systems were included, since the county didn’t previously have similar programs in place for other departments. The Building Inspections Department was initially included in Mitchell’s and Caskey’s proposal, but was removed because of recent pay raises.
When calculated over one year, the approved compensation plan equals $62,512 in raises for the sheriff’s office, $3,162 for Environmental Health and $3,300 for Information Systems, according to county documents.
As an example of the career development program, the sheriff’s office gives a 2 percent raise for a basic law enforcement certificate, 3 percent raise for an intermediate certificate and 4 percent for an advanced certificate. Associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees equal a 3 percent and 6 percent raise, respectively. Being bilingual in English and Spanish also means an increase of 5 percent.
Mitchell confirmed the measure applies to any current county employee that meets his or her specific departments program, but would not mean retroactive pay increases.
Most discussion during the meeting about the career development program centered on Rowan County serving as a spring board for employees who move on to larger counties and municipalities.
Commissioner Jon Barber said before the nationwide 2008 economic downturn Rowan County largely functioned as a training ground for other counties. He said the county lost 120 employees annually at one point.
“I don’t think we are moving into that steep position again, but we’ve got to start somewhere,” he said during the meeting. “These costs are by far much less that it costs us to rehire and train all over again.”
Caskey, who is a police officer in Charlotte, said law enforcement officers are especially susceptible to going elsewhere for higher pay.
“We need to go ahead an let them know that we support them and that they have a career in the department,” Caskey said before voting in favor of the measure.

In other news from the meeting:
• The commissioners set a public hearing for Oct. 6 to grant incentives for “Project New S.”
Economic Development Director Robert Van Geons didn’t give the company’s name, but said it was a small, commercial brewing operation that’s experiencing rapid growth. He said the incentives, if granted, would be equivalent to a 40 percent tax break over 10 years.
• The commissioners approved a change order request for a Gildan waterline project.
It was initially estimated to cost $288,553 and the new cost, with changes, would be $384,284.
The only discussion on the request came from Vice-Chairman Craig Pierce, who asked why 10 fire hydrants weren’t included in initial estimates.
• The board approved a lease agreement with the non-profit group Tsunami Development for a 2,700-square-foot space in West End Plaza at $1 per year.
• The board also approved the purchase of two ambulances for the county’s Emergency Services Department.
The total cost of the ambulances would not exceed $299,970, according to county documents.
The amount falls within a budget amount specifically set aside for the purchase.
Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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