By NEEL KELLER
Outer Banks Sentinel
Ten days after being presented with a salary study showing that 38% of the county workforce was below the “recommended minimum salary rate,” the Dare County Commissioners unanimously approved a plan to raise county worker pay that will cost nearly $3.7 million over a two-year span.
Those raises will start with the pay period running from Feb. 12 to 25, with the first paychecks including the increase to be distributed on March 3.
Board Chairman Bob Woodard, who acknowledged that improving the pay for county workers was “way past due,” said after the vote that, “Today this board took a great step forward in supporting our staff. It costs us, but it’s the right thing to do.”
The action to adopt the salary plan was taken at a Jan. 27 special board retreat. On Jan. 17, at a regular meeting of the board, John Anzivino, senior vice president of the consulting firm Springsted Inc., told the commissioners that “the county’s salary levels are lower than the average salary rates paid in comparable regional organizations.”
Anzivino presented four recommendations for addressing the matter that ranged in cost from nearly $860,000 to the $3.7 million two-year option that was selected by the commissioners.
In addressing the matter at the retreat, Woodard said, “This is probably the most important issue facing us this budget cycle.” County Manager Bobby Outten added that the county’s department heads will make the pay raise their “top priority” in budget planning
Outten stated that the board’s goals were to get its employees “to the base salary for whatever the market demand was for each job,” and to solve the “compression problem” in which long-time county employees are paid less than “entry level” new hires for comparable jobs.
Reviewing the Springsted study, Outten said all four options addressed moving underpaid workers to the “base level salary.” He added, however, that only two of those options also addressed salary compression by adding amounts to the base salary for years of service in order to “try to stretch those employees out over the twenty or twenty-five year life of the grade or career.”
He added that only the option the board ended up adopting truly “solves the compression problem.” Rather than just applying “an arbitrary percentage,” Outten explained, this option takes “our staff and disperses it out over time. At ten years you get to the mid-range. At twenty five years you get to the maximum range.”
“I’ve been pretty adamant about making sure the study included the compression,” Woodard said, “because, if we implement this and don’t include the compression, we’re back in the same situation…and we lose good people. So I’m pretty adamant about option four, and doing this on a two-year basis.”
Outten noted that a line item is already in place in the budget providing $750,000 “for salaries and fringes for the start of implementation of an in-process salary study,” with additional funding available in the construction and demolition (landfill), sanitation and water funds.
Reviewing cost-saving alternatives to option four, Outten explained that Option 4.1 would delay reaching the maximum range until 30 years, while saving a negligible amount of money (just over $87,000).
Option 4.2, which would delay reaching the mid-range until 12 years and the maximum range until 30 years, would save just over $475,000. Both of these alternatives, Outten emphasized, would delay reaching the maximum pay range until “at or about the time that you’re going to retire.”
New Commissioner Rob Ross asked if delaying the maximum to 30 years was supported by Springsted data and analysis of pay in comparable communities. “Did the representative entities of the market set achieve max at thirty years,” Ross asked, “or was there a preponderance of achievement of max at twenty-five years?”
Outten said the “ideal” plan would achieve mid-range at eight years and maximum at 25.
Noting that the affected employees will receive their first raise in their first pay check in March and a second raise in July, after the next budget cycle starts, Woodard added, “I know the employees will be pleased.”