County officials tout staffing improvements thanks to mid-year infusion of pay raises

The temptation to throw money at a problem may not be such a hare-brained idea – at least not in the case of one truly prodigious outlay that Alamance County’s commissioners authorized in December to address some persistent staffing shortages among the county’s paramedics, jailers, and social workers.

During their final, regularly scheduled meeting of 2021, a majority of the commissioners voted to set aside roughly $2.5 million a year to increase the salaries of nearly 480 full-time positions in social services, EMS, and the sheriff’s detention division. In each case, these raises were intended to reverse runaway turnover, which had resulted in vacancy rates as high as 11.5 percent in EMS, 25 percent in social services, and 33 percent among the sheriff’s detention staff.

This seven-figure outlay was nevertheless something of a human resources Hail Mary for the commissioners, who had previously approved other, more modest increases in compensation with little or no effect on the manpower shortages in the three affected agencies.

Yet, the seeds sown in December may actually be bearing some fruit, according to Alamance County’s manager Bryan Hagood, who gave the commissioners a guardedly optimistic staffing report when they convened their first meeting of the New Year on Tuesday.

During that evening’s gathering, Hagood acknowledged that last month’s salary boosts seem to have stabilized turnover in each of the affected departments. He also alluded to signs that these agencies are beginning to attract more recruits, including some former county employees who had previously defected to better-paying positions in other jurisdictions.

Hagood eventually yielded the floor to representatives from the three agencies, who provided the commissioners with some real-time insights into their respective staffing situations.

The news was particularly good from Cliff Parker, the chief deputy under Alamance County’s sheriff, who noted an appreciable change at the sheriff’s detention division since the pay raises took effect on January 1.

“We’ve seen an approximately 60 percent increase in interest in applications,” Parker informed the commissioners. “We’ve had inquires from some of our surrounding detention centers…We’ve had inquiries from some of our former employees who want to return, and we have several applicants in the queue.”

Parker attributed much of the detention division’s newfound allure to last month’s salary increases, which added $4,000 to the base pay of each of its 121 positions as well as an additional $4,000 a year in bonuses for those who actually have guard duty in Alamance County’s jail.

The commissioners heard a similar story from the county’s social services director, Adrian Daye, as she reflected on the $5,000 increases that were extended to every full-time staff member in her 230-person department.

“Just since this has been implemented, we’ve had five new hires,” Daye notified the county’s governing board. “We also have two of our former employees back with us, and we just got word last week that there are two other former employees who are interested in coming back.”

Daye went on to acknowledge her department’s vacancy rate has remained largely the same in spite of these recent successes. She nevertheless saw some cause to celebrate the fact that the flow of personnel is no longer one way out of her agency.

“We are definitely starting to see a difference,” she added, “which is very encouraging.”
The prognosis was even more hopeful from Ray Vipperman, the county’s EMS director, whose 96-person staff has received across-the-board raises of 9 percent courtesy of the commissioners.

“We received an immediate impact in morale,” Vipperman recalled. “We’ve had three part-time employees choose to come with us full time, which is nice, and we’ve got another individual that we’re hiring full-time who’s currently not with agency.”

Hagood, meanwhile, assured the commissioners that he’ll continue to keep them up-to-date on staffing at all three of these agencies as they look forward to further improvements from last month’s pay increases.

Previous coverage of the raises: