Wednesday, May 18, 2022

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Commissioners bestow year-end raises on three departments with higher-than-average vacancy rates

It was a season of giving this week as Alamance County’s commissioners approved some rather generous pay raises for staff members in three county agencies that have had to contend with relatively high vacancy rates.

The commissioners rung in this yuletide bonanza with one sweeping gesture on Monday when they agreed to set aside roughly $1.4 million to increase the salaries of about 477 positions in social services, EMS, and the sheriff’s detention division.

This raft of raises, which ultimately passed by a margin of 4-to-1, includes an additional $5,000 for all employees in the department of social services and a 9-percent increase for the entire staff in emergency medical services. A majority of commissioners also approved an extra $4,000 for every detention officer at the local sheriff’s department, with the prospect of another $4,000 for those who actually pull 12-hour shifts guarding the inmates in Alamance County’s jail.

The prevailing view of the county’s governing board was aptly summed up by its vice chairman Steve Carter prior to Monday night’s vote.

“We’ve got to take care of these people. We can’t deny these people the support they need to do their jobs.” – County commissioner Steve Carter

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“We’ve got to take care of these people,” Carter told his fellow commissioners. “We can’t deny these people the support they need to do their jobs.”

The wage increases which Carter and his colleagues signed off on this week were originally proposed to the commissioners during a specially-called work session earlier this month (Friday, December 10).

 

Sheriff: detention officer raises for rest of fiscal year can be financed within budget

During this 6 1/2-hour confab, the commissioners heard from Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Johnson about the pressure that his 151-person detention division has felt from its 50 vacant positions (which include 14 posts that were frozen as part of the county’s current annual budget and make for an overall vacancy rate of about 33 percent). During this month’s work session, Johnson told the commissioners that the lapsed salaries from his openings would more than cover the cost of his requested pay raises, which he predicted would cost the county $738,000 for the remaining six months of this fiscal year.

 

Social Services director: her department’s raises can also be financed within budget

Meanwhile, the county’s social services director, Adrian Daye, lamented the stress that her agency’s 58 vacancies have placed on the county’s social services staff – whose vacancy rate amounts to about 25 percent given its 230 full-time positions. Like Johnson, Daye assured the commissioners that her department’s lapsed salaries would be sufficient to cover the county’s 50-percent share of the $694,146 that her request needed to fund her proposed $5,000 raises – the remainder of which would be subsidized by state or federal funds.

 

EMS director: his department will need subsidies beyond existing budget to finance raises

The commissioners received a similar report from the county’s EMS director Ray Vipperman, whose 96-person staff currently has 11 openings, or a vacancy rate of about 11.5 percent. Vipperman acknowledged that his department’s current budget couldn’t absorb the $300,000 that his requested 9-percent raises would cost for the remainder of this fiscal year. Hagood nevertheless assured the commissioners that the county will inevitably have some extra funds somewhere in this year’s budget to cover the cost of these raises.

 

Monday’s raises aren’t the only ones, just the most recent

The raises which the commissioners authorized on Monday aren’t exactly the first stab that the county’s elected leaders have taken to address recruitment and retention at the three affected agencies.

Earlier this year, the commissioners approved 4-percent pay raises for three particularly high turnover posts in the social services department. They also signed off on retention, signing, and referral bonuses for the agency’s five hardest-pressed positions. The commissioners ultimately decided to terminate these various bonuses when they approved the proposed raises on Monday after the social services director conceded that few employees had claimed the bonuses.

As for the other two turnover-plagued agencies, the county’s current budget already includes 5-percent wage increases for all of the county’s deputies and jailers. The commissioners have subsequently approved additional bumps in compensation for the sheriff’s subordinates with ranks of sergeant or higher.

More recently, the commissioners have offered the county’s paramedics bonuses of $100 and $200 to work an extra 12- or 24-hour shift in order to offset staffing shortages in EMS.

During Monday night’s meeting, the sheriff insisted that, the county’s previous raises, Alamance County’s jailers are still woefully underpaid compared to their peers in other counties

“Right now we’re so far behind…it’s unbelievable,” he told the commissioners.

The sheriff also acknowledged that the county may have to give up the roughly $6 million that the jail generates from contracts with the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Alamance County’s manager Bryan Hagood went on to urge the commissioners to lend their collective support to all of the requested bonuses that were before them on Monday.

“We usually don’t like to do that in the middle of the fiscal year. But this year, these three departments in particular seem to be at a crisis point, and it seemed my duty to bring this to your attention.” – County manager Bryan Hagood

“We usually don’t like to do that in the middle of the fiscal year,” the county manager added. “But this year, these three departments in particular seem to be at a crisis point, and it seemed my duty to bring this to your attention.”

 

Weekend fire serves as illustration for more aid to first responders

During Monday’s discussion, commissioner Steve Carter pointed to Sunday’s cataclysmic fire at the Embers Motor Lodge to underscore the need for adequately-paid emergency services in Alamance County.

“I don’t think you can ever pay a first responder enough,” she insisted. “We have got to do the right thing by the people who keep us safe.” – County commissioner Pam Thompson

Sunday’s conflagration also weighed heavily on the mind of commissioner Pam Thompson, who went on to endorse the proposed raises for all three of the agencies under consideration.

“I don’t think you can ever pay a first responder enough,” she insisted. “We have got to do the right thing by the people who keep us safe.”

Meanwhile, commissioner Bill Lashley floated the possibility of using federal pandemic relief to cover the cost of the EMS raises for the next couple of years. Lashley nevertheless assured the three turnover-frazzled department heads that the commissioners will fund their requested raises through the current financial cycle.

“We [also] have the money to take care of you through next year as well, and I want the taxpayers of Alamance County to know that this is not going to raise your taxes one penny.”  – County commissioner Bill Lashley

“We [also] have the money to take care of you through next year as well,” Lashley went on to add, “and I want the taxpayers of Alamance County to know that this is not going to raise your taxes one penny.”

The only objection to the proposed raises came from commissioner Craig Turner, who called on his colleagues to take a “more measured” approach to addressing turnover.

“I fully recognize that these departments are in crisis. But this is a $1.4 million increase to the county’s current budget. The point of a budget is that you consider all of the needs of county budget, that you rack and stack them for the commissioners to approve.” – County commissioner Craig Turner

Turner went on to suggest a less costly mid-year increase that would add 6-percent to the salaries in detention, EMS, and social services. He nevertheless accepted the sheriff’s argument in favor of $4,000 bonuses for the detention center’s shift workers because he said he recognized the severity of the short-staffing crisis in their division.

Turner ultimately cast the lone vote against a motion to accept the proposed pay raises, which passed with the support of John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, as well as commissioners Carter, Lashley, and Thompson.


Coverage of background discussions evolving from county manager’s recommendations for raises that took place during special “work session” of the commissioner board of Friday, December 10: https://alamancenews.com/county-mulls-millions-in-raises-for-high-turnover-departments/

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