Pay inquiry sparks debate
Feb 18, 2013 (The Dispatch - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
One Davidson County commissioner believes board members are overpaid compared to their peers across the state. That feeling is not consensual across the board, to say the least.
Davidson County Commissioner Sam Watford triggered some heated discussion during the board's annual retreat Thursday, when he suggested decreasing commissioner pay by about $3,000.
Each year, each commissioner is paid a salary of $10,057, a $6,000 meeting fee and a $2,400 travel stipend, all totaling $18,457, said Jim Tysinger, Davidson County's director of human resources. The board's chairman is paid a salary of $11,517, a $6,000 meeting fee and a $2,700 travel stipend for a total of $20,217.
Across the state, regular commissioners are paid an average of about $12,300 each year, including salaries and travel stipends, according to a survey prepared for the University of North Carolina School of Government.
The average pay for commissioners in counties demographically similar to Davidson County is about $13,398, according to the survey.
Most counties only pay a salary and travel stipend; however, some also pay a fee for attending special meetings. After reviewing how Davidson County's meeting fees compare to other counties Thursday, Watford recommended cutting the $6,000 fee in half.
His recommendation was not favored by most of the board.
Davidson County Commissioner Billy Joe Kepley said the level of work differs from commissioner to commissioner and from county to county.
"(In) Terrell County, the commissioners there probably have two meetings a month and that's just about it," Kepley said. "There's not much going on. They go back to their cotton field or whatever to."
Kepley went on to say his job is 24/7, recalling a story of when a drunk man called him at 2:30 a.m. to talk about his relationship issues. Kepley said he counseled the man for more than an hour, only to learn at a later date that he committed suicide.
"I would have felt terrible if I hadn't of taken that time," Kepley said.
Kepley continued, but was cut off by Watford, who was then cut off by Fred McClure, chairman of the board.
"Mr. Kepley has got the floor," McClure said.
"Nobody is going to argue that," Watford said, referring to Kepley's point about speaking with the drunk caller.
"Are you going to withdraw " asked commissioner Larry Potts.
"No, I'm going to continue to talk about it," Watford said. "You talk about trying to save a few thousand dollars and now you're talking about trying to save at least $3,000 apiece. It looks like to me we're overpaid by at least $5,000 compared to our population size and the counties around us."
"Some of the counties around us -- " McClure said, cut off by Watford.
"No, I'm not going to argue. I had the floor that time now," Watford said.
"No, you haven't had the floor. You were never recognized to have the floor. Mr. Kepley had the floor," McClure said. "Go ahead, Mr. Kepley."
"I'm through," Kepley said.
"I'm through," Watford said.
The back and forth amongst commissioners came just a few minutes after McClure spoke on an agenda item regarding board decorum, in which he reminded his peers about being respectful while others were talking.
"Y'all are sitting over there doing exactly what we talked about so far as the decorum is concerned," McClure said. "You're sitting over there with a side conversation while Mr. Kepley is trying to talk, and there's no sense in doing it, I'm sorry. I told you not to get mad at me when I say it, so please don't get mad at me when I say it, but there's no reason in doing it.
"Some of the commissions do not have zoning, they do not have zoning meetings at all," McClure continued, adding that only one board meeting is required by state law. "Some of them don't have five meetings a month to go to."
"I just wanted to get clear where you stood," Watford said.
"Well, we got you," McClure said.
Potts immediately added that 5 p.m. Thursday marked his 15th hour of meetings this week.
"I'm not quite as rich as Mr. Watford," Potts said. "I feel like I've earned the money."
To the entire room, Kepley in turn said, "Will y'all go ahead and order supper for us "
While Kepley was joking, Watford later said he was serious about his recommendation to the board. He said there's no question all the commissioners work hard, but he thought cutting the meeting fee in half would lead to savings.
"We go to a lot of trouble to save a few thousand dollars in places, and over some time, that could accumulate in some savings," Watford said. "You can't do the job for the money. If you are doing it for the money, you need to find another job."
In addition to their salary, meeting and travel pay, commissioners are also eligible for the county's health insurance plan. Dental insurance is optional for all county employees, and there is no life insurance offered, nor a 401(k) program, Tysinger said.
Commissioners also receive an iPad and a cell phone, for which they are given a monthly allowance of $65, said Assistant Davidson County Manager Zeb Hanner.
Davidson County routinely conducts pay studies, which compare employee salaries in various departments to similar positions in neighboring or comparable counties, Tysinger said. Historically, if the employee is doing a good job, the county will not deduct an employee's pay just because it is higher than a similar position within another county, he said.
"In the same light, when we do these studies, and we do a lot of them, just because an employee is less than other counties, we can't necessarily match the other counties, but we want to keep them competitive," Tysinger said.
On Friday, McClure said he thinks the commissioners are paid fairly, not too high or too low.
"There are a lot of counties that do not have the meeting schedule we have. We have a pretty heavy meeting schedule," McClure said, adding that he recently spent two days at the N.C. Legislative Goals Conference in Raleigh. "We also serve on different boards and to the people's credit and our commissioners' credit, they are involved in the business of the county. There are a lot of counties where commissioners don't have designated assignments as far as committees are concerned."
Nash Dunn can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 227, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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