Buncombe County employees earn higher salaries on average than their peers in comparable North Carolina government agencies, as well as large nongovernmental organizations, according to a salary study commissioned by the county.
Based on the results of the study, consultant Evergreen Solutions has recommended that Buncombe County adopt a revised personnel classification system and pay plan. The Board of Commissioners will vote on the proposed changes during its regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 20.
Revising the county’s pay plan, the study says, would cut costs while also preserving the county’s ability to attract, hire and retain employees.
Under the current plan, employees at the low end of each pay grade receive salaries and wages that are on average 9 percent higher than those offered for the same positions by similar governments in the state, as well as large local employers like UNC Asheville, Mountain Area Health Education Center and Mission Health. Mid-level salaries are on average 5.1 percent higher, and maximum salaries are on average 2.7 percent higher.
In certain positions, however, some county employees are being paid at below-market rates. The proposed plan would transition 92 employees to a higher pay grade, a step interim County Manager George Wood told commissioners in a Nov. 14 memo would cost $117,450.
Wood said the proposed pay plan would not significantly change county pay relative to other jurisdictions. “Some positions were underpaid, and it corrected them,” he said.
Evergreen Solutions also recommended the county conduct small-scale salary surveys in the future to ensure the plan continues to correlate with changing market conditions. In addition to these more informal surveys, the study recommends that Buncombe County conduct pay studies like the one undertaken in 2018 every three to five years.
“In my experience, every five years is sufficient, if you conduct the small-scale surveys recommended above,” Wood wrote in the memo. “This is important, as these pay studies cost nearly $75,000.”
If approved, the resolution would make adding a new position or changing a position’s title or assigned pay grade subject to the board’s approval. “That assures that you as the governing body know any changes beforehand and have approved them,” Wood wrote. “This is an internal control mechanism that needs to be followed.”
The consultant also collected employee feedback on county benefits. The report says a majority of employees appreciate benefits like the county’s longevity pay, health care, retirement and 401k plan, all of which employees said contributed to the belief that Buncombe County provides significantly better benefits than other employers in the area.
“Some concern was expressed, however, for new hires who did not receive the same level of employee benefits in some areas,” the study notes.
Wood wrote in his memo that he “highly recommends” that the county’s Human Resources director develop a performance evaluation system as soon as possible. He previously recommended a switch to a merit-based system of pay adjustments in an August memo to commissioners. The county currently adjusts salaries through an automatic cost of living adjustment tied to the Consumer Price Index.
Some departments do have a performance evaluation system, but employees interviewed by the consultants noted that the systems “had little value, since salary increases were not linked to the results,” according to the study. The consultant reported that most employees said an evaluation tool and official process for assessing individual job performance should be developed and used on a consistent basis.
Article continues below
Updates to county policies
Commissioners will also vote on a new set of policies that aim to improve oversight of county contracts and the procurement of goods and services.
The changes come after three former county officials were accused of accepting kickbacks from a contractor in exchange for favorable consideration on county contracts. (More info here.)
Under the revised policies, the Board of Commissioners would have more control over purchases that pass a certain dollar threshold.
- The board will be notified of purchases of supplies and equipment with a value of $90,000 or greater.
- The board will be notified of services that cost $90,000 or more. Contracts for a multi-year leases, rentals or maintenance that do not contain a non-appropriations clause must receive approval from the Board of Commissioners.
- The board or a designee must approve contracts with a value of $50,000 to $89,999 for architects, surveyors, design/build contractors or construction managers at risk. Contracts with values of $90,000 or greater must receive board approval.
- The board will be notified of construction or repair projects with values between $90,000 and $499,999. Any contracts worth $500,000 or more must receive board approval.
- The board will be notified of the purchase of information technology items, including hardware, software and telephone systems, with a value of $90,000 or more.
The proposed changes would also create a countywide policy on contracts. Deputy Finance Officer Dustin Clark told commissioners in October that, to his knowledge, the county hasn’t had a unified contract policy in the past. Putting one in place would make processes like auditing easier, Clark said.
“Because we haven’t had a countywide policy, auditing has been a little bit tricky,” Clark said, “because there aren’t a set of rules by which you try to compare what’s happening in the organization.”
Article continues below
Las Vegas-based developer Robert Turi has withdrawn an application to amend a part of the county zoning ordinance that governs development in steep, hilltop areas. The public hearing associated with that change has been canceled.
Turi proposed the amendment to allow him to develop a conservation-oriented resort in the Emma’s Grove area of Fletcher.
Opponents to the change expressed concern that the new zoning classification would allow more intensive development in ecologically sensitive parts of the county.
Read more about the proposed change here.
The Board of Commissioners will meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20 in the third-floor conference room at 200 College St. in downtown Asheville. See the full agenda here.