Pay study first step, but more needed

January 3, 2014

It appears county commissioners are running head-long toward a pay classification and total compensations/benefits program study aimed as a first step in a fix to a long-time and still festering problem with employee salaries.

While we continue to caution — as we have done on countless other occasions — moving toward yet another pay study without any intentions of following recommendations within it, we believe there are positives associated with this latest endeavor to shore up non-competitive salaries.

Among those positives is county manager Ed Causey’s determination to both get a study completed and find a workable solution commissioners can use to improve stagnant pay for long-time and loyal employees. Almost since his first day on the job, Causey has cited the need for a study and the greater need of implementing a competitive pay classification that compensates employees for the jobs they do, showing them a loyalty that goes beyond mere words.

There have been lackluster approaches to salary bumps over the years, including expensive pay studies that have virtually been ignored with current and past county boards getting heartburn over the financial consequences of doing more than tossing out small raises from time to time. And that has left Sampson as a mere stepping stone to better paying jobs elsewhere, something Causey and his department heads believe is detrimental to the county and its citizens. It’s for those reasons, among others, that the county manager is pushing commissioners to move forward with the study.

We agree a study is needed, but we still believe a study without action is mere window dressing and does nothing to fix the problems the county has with low morale and the employee revolving door that seems to be widening.

That brings us to the second positive — commissioners themselves. Current board members, after hearing from numerous department leaders, including Sheriff Jimmy Thornton, health director Wanda Robinson and DSS director Sarah Bradshaw, seem to have a better understanding of the consequences of their past foot-dragging (as well as their predecessors’) on salary issues and appear poised to do something concrete to resolve the matter.

Thornton, Bradshaw and Robinson have all talked repeatedly about staff members they are losing to neighboring counties where the pay is better and morale higher because of it, and commissioners have sensed the need to stem employee flight before it grows worse. Hence the latest moves to get a pay study completed.

But recognizing the problem and resolving to fix it is one thing, actually following through is another.

That’s what commissioners have to understand moving forward.

While it’s been said that employees want a study even if no raise is forthcoming, we seriously doubt that’s truly the case, and it shouldn’t be. Spending county dollars on a study that will never be implemented is wasteful, time-consuming and absurd. What’s more, it’ll do nothing to lift sinking morale.

Commissioners need to be certain they are ready to open the county’s coffers and implement what a study might recommend doing or they need to put brakes on it now, owning up to their unwillingness to put the financial backing behind their words of support.