Mebane’s city council voted unanimously this week to increase the pay for the city’s Information Technology (IT) director, in hopes of boosting the city’s prospects for finding someone to fill the position before the current IT director, Ray Smith, retires February 1.
Mebane city manager David Cheek said he’d hoped to have a new IT director in place to work alongside Smith prior to his impending retirement but efforts to fill the position haven’t panned out. Last fall, the city advertised the job, got six applications, and hired a new IT director – who quit after a week. The new IT director had been hired at the top of the existing salary range for the position, Cheek told the council Monday night.
The yearly salary for the IT director position previously ranged from a low of $57,147, to a midpoint of $71,000, and a top salary of $88,579, according to figures the city manager cited for the council.
A 2019 survey conducted by the North Carolina League of Municipalities revealed that, among Mebane and 15 similarly-sized cities, yearly salaries for an IT director averaged between $52,339.76 and $79,489.41, while the midpoint averaged approximately $65,955, based on figures that Cheek presented this week.
With the approved increase, the annual salary for the IT director position will now range from a low of $72,936, to a midpoint of $90,615, and a top salary of $113,051, which Cheek said is on par with the yearly pay ranges for Mebane’s assistant police chief, fire chief, and parks & recreation director.
Five candidates who interviewed director’s job last fall had all asked why the city had a one-person IT department, Cheek pointed out this week. Interest quickly waned “once we told them what they have to say grace over every day,” he recalled for the council.
Among other job duties, the IT director is responsible for: maintaining a 10-location network; public Wi-Fi systems at all locations, including Mebane’s new community park and Lake Michael; the phone system; remote access for the fire and police departments, including computers that are installed in all police vehicles; security camera systems; and network security, to include maintaining, updating, and training other city employees about how to prevent viruses and malware from infiltrating the city’s network.
Cheek said funding for the difference between the previous and the new pay for the IT director position will come from existing savings for contracted IT services that have accumulated within this year’s budget, as well as lapsed salaries and benefits. The city is also eliminating two positions, a telecommunicator and tax collector, which Cheek said are no longer needed.
“We need to keep moving forward,” Patty Philipps said Monday night after she and her four fellow council members voted unanimously to approve both requests.
Cheek subsequently admitted that he had already re-advertised the director position with the new salary, telling the council, “I took a chance.”
This time, the city has received 60 applications for the director’s position, Cheek added. “I want to be able to tell whoever we hire, they are going to have some backup – that they are going to be able to hire an IT specialist. [We] want to be able to entice a more competitive person to come here; we feel like we are well-understaffed in this area.”
The addition of an IT specialist would bring the total number of employees in the department to two, the city manager told the council Monday night. “We probably need to be in the middle of the road” in terms of the size of IT departments that similarly-sized cities in North Carolina have, he said.
The average number of IT employees is about 2.5 for cities that have populations ranging between 10,000 and 24,999, based on figures that Cheek presented for the council’s discussion. He pointed to the cities of Kings Mountain and Shelby “would be similar,” he said Monday night. Kings Mountain has three IT employees, while Shelby has two, based on the city manager’s presentation to the council.
The city manager said that, in contrast to the salary for the IT director position, the pay for the IT specialist position will be entry-level. Cheek recommended setting the pay range for the IT specialist at a low of $51,834, to a midpoint of $64,398, to a high of $80,344, which he said would be funded from savings within the current budget and is on par with that for a police sergeant, building code inspector III, and the arts & community center supervisor.
By comparison, the city of Graham had two IT positions and a total departmental payroll of $122,483, based on figures that Cheek presented this week. Graham’s pay range for an IT specialist ranges from a starting annual salary of $46,917.18, to a midpoint of $61,539.58, to a top yearly salary of $76,161.97.
“Probably one of the biggest things is network security,” Cheek explained. For context, he reminded the council, “When I first came here, I was over IT. [Smith] has made us pretty much air tight – knock on wood, knock on wood. That’s why we’ve gone from one person to needing, probably, three.”
The industry standard in the IT field is to have one technician for every 100 devices, the city manager said. Mebane has a total of 207 devices, including servers; desktop and laptop computers; and tablet computers – but only one technician, Smith – by Cheek’s calculations. Figures that the city manager presented this week revealed that, as of July 2019, the number of IT positions at 21 other similarly-sized cities in North Carolina ranged from zero (Clemmons) to four (Lexington and Pinehurst each had four IT positions).
Meanwhile, the city’s router blocked 4.3 million unauthorized attempts to access the city’s network by robots, malware, and other cybersecurity threats within the last 69 days, Cheek said, underscoring the need to beef up the IT department. “We are at a point we need to move ahead,” he told the council, adding, “I don’t like asking for a new position in the middle of the year.”
Mayor pro tem Jill Auditori recalled that Cheek had been talking about this need for several months. “It seems like the new IT director position could almost hinge on this specialist position being approved now,” she said Monday night.
“I think the critical thing is being able to keep the systems going,” said councilman Tim Bradley.
City council members subsequently voted 5-0 to increase the salary range for the IT director and to add the new IT specialist. “My hope,” Cheek told the council, “is we are going to be hiring a director and a specialist by March. I know that’s aggressive, but I think it’s doable.”