Effort To Boost Pay To Reduce County’s Employee Turnover Fails In 3-3 Vote

Effort To Boost Pay To Reduce County’s Employee Turnover Fails In 3-3 Vote
File photo by Charlene Sharpe

SNOW HILL – A proposal to increase salaries for county jobs with a high rate of turnover failed this week after a split vote by the Worcester County Commissioners.

The commissioners voted 3-3 on a motion to approve a salary reclassification plan proposed by Human Resources Director Stacey Norton. Norton and several of the commissioners argued that the pay for several county positions was not competitive and that they experienced a high rate of turnover.

“When you start paring those numbers down people can’t afford to live,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said.

During a special work session Tuesday, Norton asked the commissioners to use $290,837 in savings from employee retirements and vacant positions to reclassify close to 40 positions and revise the associated job grades. She said she’d had trouble filling a number of positions for months and was hoping an immediate adjustment to salary levels would help attract employees. Adjustments included increasing the starting rate for a “Maintenance Worker I” from $11.70 to $12.27 and increasing the rate for a “Roads Worker II” from $12.27 to $13.53, among others.

“While this current proposal will not necessarily make these county positions competitive with the local market, it is clearly a much needed step in that direction,” Norton said.

Norton said the county lost 90 employees during the last fiscal year and had already lost 46 this fiscal year, which doesn’t end until June. She said those figures included employees who’d retired as well as those who’d accepted better offers elsewhere.

Commissioner Jim Bunting said he thought the county needed to focus on saving money, considering health care costs would be increasing and it wasn’t clear how much funding the school system would require in the coming year. Bunting believes salaries need to be adjusted but said he didn’t think the situation as bad as some people said it was.

“I don’t think it’s an epidemic of people leaving,” he said.

Assistant Chief Administrator Kelly Shannahan told the commissioner that Norton’s proposal was just a first step and that there would be additional initiatives to increase employee recruitment and retainment in the future.

“It’s very difficult for Stacey to even find people interested in applying,” he said.

Mitrecic said some positions were clearly not competitive. Several roads department employees, for example, make less than $13 an hour. Nevertheless they were the ones responsible for keeping the county’s roads passable during the recent blizzard.

“They’re the ones out there busting their behinds,” he said. “I don’t think any of us want to go out there for $12 an hour.”

Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw agreed salaries needed to be addressed but expressed concern over the possibility of someone being hired and trained by the county only to leave and go elsewhere.

Commissioners Bud Church and Diana Purnell spoke in support of Norton’s proposal.

“We’re going to lose people because we don’t have the salaries,” Purnell said. “The bottom line is we have to change our program. It’s not costing us anything at this point.”

Commissioner Chip Bertino asked whether the changes could be implemented at the start of the next fiscal year.

“What I’m having trouble with is doing it now so close to budget,” he said.

When he asked if it would be a problem to wait, Norton said that it would.

“I have vacancies now I can’t fill,” she said.

Mitrecic said he didn’t think the current proposal would solve everything but that it would help. He advocated for a comprehensive salary study that would compare the county’s pay rates to those of other major area employers.

Bunting continued to express concern with the salary adjustments.

“We’re going to have all kinds of effects from this if we do it today,” he said.

A motion to approve the changes proposed by Norton failed, as just Church, Mitrecic and Purnell voted in favor of it. Bunting, Bertino and Lockfaw were opposed while Commissioner Ted Elder was absent.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.