An extended budget process created a domino effect that delayed other aspects of county government, including the annual audit, which has in turn meant a holdup in the completion of a much-discussed and anticipated pay study.
After years of employee concerns and failed pay studies, the Sampson Board of Commissioners voted in March to move forward with a comprehensive employee pay, classification and benefits study expected to take at least four months to complete and be implemented over the course of several years.
That timeline will be postponed a bit due to the 2014-15 budget approval, and subsequent audit, being pushed back.
Springsted Inc., approved among six who submitted proposals in December, is now in the process of compiling all of the data on income. Interviews with employees were done in early July.
“They have that information and they are going through the process of getting market information together now,” county manager Ed Causey noted.
During July, county department heads and managerial staff were preparing impact assessments of a potential 5 percent cut as part of extended budget deliberations. That caused scheduling to be put off a bit. Springsted originally proposed a four to five month timeline.
“We are behind on our audit preparations and we are in the position where we might have to put the priority on closing out work on the audit,” the county manager noted.
He floated an optimistic late September/early October timeline for having the pay study completed and results presented to commissioners. However, he stressed that would be the earliest time it would likely occur.
“That is our anticipation, but that could ultimately be delayed some,” Causey noted. “They are going to start compiling data and have department heads give any feedback before the report is finalized. We have been delayed by the budget process.”
The comprehensive study, while likely showing Sampson wages need to be higher in areas, would also reflect where Sampson’s benefits rank in the overall market and how they might also be adjusted in maintaining a solid system, Causey said. Over time, with technological advances and changes in the workforce, jobs have also changed a great deal, but in Sampson the classifications for those jobs have not been reviewed or evaluated.
“When we get the pay study and benefits study back, there will be the opportunity to make adjustments. This may be the time we’re going to have to do some real long-term planning and examine the number of employees that is sustainable over time. This may be a golden opportunity to create some of the adjustments. It’s fascinating what a job is and what it was (originally) classified as. It sort of becomes something different over time.”
In recent years, county employees have increasingly raised a stink over low salaries, especially when compared to pay in surrounding counties. Compounded by stretched personnel and long hours in some departments, that has made for a stressful working environment, employees said.
Causey estimated this week that, in all, close to half the county’s workforce participated in interviews with the company or gave feedback in some way. The goal has been to give everyone that chance, he said.
“(The study) will be a tool for us to ensure fairness and minimize unintended discrimination,” he remarked. “I would like to create a system of parity that is of benefit to everyone. The ultimate goal is to create a comparable salary schedule, while also trying to treat our employees in a fair and equitable manner and be cognizant of the county taxpayers. This will show us where we are, what we need to do and how we need to adjust.”
The county manager said the board should be willing to implement recommendations within the next four years, knowing that there will be further discussion and possible options to be mulled after the study comes back.
Even when the study comes back, any changes won’t happen overnight — far from it, Causey said.
“We understood when we did the RFP (request for proposals) that it would be a challenge,” the county manager noted. “That’s why we emphasized that any recommendations or modifications would take place in as many as four years. It’s going to be an involved process.”
The county board approved Springsted, through a contract with the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, at a base price of $41,778, plus project expenses not to exceed $4,800 — a total of $46,578. Some called into question spending money on a study that could just inform the county they need to spend more money, when the county is already strapped for funding.
However, Commissioner Billy Lockamy for one has vowed to see the study carried through, unlike other pay studies initiated in the past.
A study was conducted in the late 80’s by David M. Griffith & Associates, and a subsequent study was performed by Management and Personnel Services (the MAPS Group) in 2003. The latter was partially implemented in May 2003 but never in full. In light of that incomplete study, county staff requested a performance and pay study for employees in 2011 but a tight budget put the kibosh on that.
Causey said the comprehensive study is vital to Sampson’s long-term stability.
He has heard some employee concerns about the thoroughness of the recent interviews, with some believing they could have given more relevant or complete information to help the study along. Causey said it his intention to ensure everyone is heard before it is all said and done, and for any perceived flaws in the process to be rectified.
That also takes time.
“If the process is not going as quickly as people would like, I would have to assume responsibility,” he said. “I have been assisting staff with completing work on the audit, but I don’t want anyone to think this is not in our minds and not a priority.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-249-4616. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.