Buncombe County is managing its growing personnel costs on the backs of newer and younger employees, according to Buncombe County Commissioner Holly Jones.
The criticism, sent via an email newsletter early today, does not name County Manager Wanda Greene, but is aimed at the county’s highest administrative levels.
In addition to disagreeing with county personnel policies, Jones blasts the county’s lack of transparency in its budget process. “Sadly, a major, new ($540,000) personnel expense [longevity pay], which requires full public vetting during the budget process, was neither disclosed in any budget documents or hearing nor was it even mentioned to me prior to our budgetary vote,” she wrote.
Jones criticized the county’s policy of providing better and cheaper health insurance to employees hired before 2010. She also disagreed with the policy of pegging starting pay to the county’s lowest entry level, regardless of the person’s experience, saying, “This shortsighted policy currently impairs our public safety and public health departments…”
She also objected to bonuses for the county’s highest paid employees, saying, “I can’t justify using taxpayers’ dollars for bonuses of $7,000 to 12,000 for any county employee who makes a six-figure salary.”
The full text of Jones’ email is below.
Fairness and Transparency
“…in these financially challenging times, we have to figure out a smarter, more affordable and more equitable approach.”
“…critical new information should be shared with all elected officials and the public PRIOR to budget adoption in June.” – Holly Jones
Fairness: Seasoned, professional staff dedicated to serving the citizens of Buncombe County deserve our appreciation, and they deserve fair compensation. Yet in these financially challenging times, we have to figure out a smarter, more affordable and more equitable approach.
The issue of longevity pay is but one example of the inequity of our current compensation policies in its discriminatory approach to newer employees. New employees have to wait six months prior to receiving health insurance. This is unconscionable for an employer of our size. Once these new employees finally become eligible for health insurance, they do not even qualify for the County’s “standard plan”. They must pay higher premiums and receive fewer benefits. The more comprehensive “standard plan” is available only to employees hired before 2010. Also, recently hired employees receive drastically reduced longevity pay and annual leave accrual. Many other benefits, such as 401K and cost-of-living adjustments, are based on salary levels. Because newer employees receive less compensation, these inequities become further exaggerated.
Buncombe County has also frozen beginning pay to the very lowest entry level. Thus, regardless of experience, new employees must enter our workforce at the lowest end of the pay scale. This shortsighted policy currently impairs our public safety and public health departments by making it difficult to compete with entities like the hospital for trained staff.
Buncombe County is clearly managing its growing personnel costs on the backs of the newer and younger employees. This is not fair. This is bad business. This does not prepare our county for the future.
It is important to retain longevity pay. It’s one way we can honor our employees’ tireless dedication to Buncombe County and retain our best and brightest. However, this policy does need reform and should be brought in line with our community’s standards and recognize the financial times taxpayers are facing.
I can’t justify using taxpayers’ dollars for bonuses of $7,000 to 12,000 for any county employee who makes a six figure salary. A maximum cap should be considered. My approach would be a more equalized sharing of these year-end bonuses, which would help struggling employees at the bottom of the pay scale while rewarding longstanding employees.
Buncombe County employees care deeply about their fellow co-workers and are team players. All team members deserve fairness and the current system is not fair.
Transparency: When I wrote to you last February, I indicated I was going to be vigilant in the budget conversation as it related to delivering quality services to citizens, being good stewards of the taxpayers’ trust and rewarding all of our employees fairly. I have worked hard to fulfill that promise. Sadly, a major, new ($540,000) personnel expense, which requires full public vetting during the budget process, was neither disclosed in any budget documents or hearing nor was it even mentioned to me prior to our budgetary vote.
Such critical new information should be shared with all elected officials and the public PRIOR to budget adoption in June. This was an unfortunate, major omission. When this item was disclosed to me on Sept. 30, long after budget adoption, my response was not supportive in the absence of an impending wage and compensation report. Making big decisions without the facts does not serve our employees or our taxpayers.
My fundamental assertion remains – substantive budget items that deviate from normal personnel policy must be discussed and voted on in public. Disclosing this information after the budget was adopted and in closed-door, one-on-one meetings with commissioners does not meet the letter or spirit of the law I am sworn to uphold.
As this topic continues to be publicly discussed, I welcome your feedback. While the commissioners approve the benefits framework, it is you, the taxpayers, who are paying the bills. Your input on both the process for making these decisions about the use of public funds and the substantive questions about how we can most fairly compensate our valued public employees are appreciated.
For more on Jones’ concerns, which she first raised publicly on Dec. 6., see Buncombe commissioner Holly Jones questions “undisclosed” $541,600 in employee “longevity payments”.