County Evaluates Employee Benefits
Aware of a continuing economic downturn, the county commissioners are taking another look at benefits available to county employees.
Denise Brook, human resources director, presented an overview of the employee pay package at a March 15 meeting of the Moore County Board of Commissioners. Her presentation covered service pay, longevity pay, performance evaluation score ranking and a 401(k) contribution match survey.
"My question is, 'Do we have the money to fund it?'" said Commissioner Tim Lea.
One focus of concern was the absence of a match requirement to participate in the 401(k), a program in which governments and businesses administer retirement plans on behalf of employees.
Moore County makes a 3 percent contribution to the 401(k) retirement program for each employee, but employees are not required to make a contribution to their own account. The benefit applies to 619 full-time employees and 24 part-time employees.
Commissioner Larry Caddell noted that only about half of the county's employees contribute to their 401(k) accounts and said an employee match is a good way to encourage everyone to save for the future.
"It's general practice (for employees to contribute) across the corporate world," Commissioner Craig Kennedy said. "I'm shocked that only one county requires a match (from employees)."
In an interview after the meeting, Brook said it is standard practice across North Carolina for government employees not to be required to make matching contributions to such retirement programs. She said this is probably because wages for local government employees are frequently lower than those paid in the private sector.
Although county employees are not required to match the county contribution, Brook said they may elect to do so if they wish. She said that at least half of Moore County's employees voluntarily make contributions to their 401(k) accounts.
Moore is one of four counties in this section of the state that contribute to 401(k) programs and the percentage is the lowest. Lee, Richmond and Scotland counties contribute 5 percent but also do not require an employee match. Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Lee and Randolph counties do not offer this benefit, according to a survey taken by Brook at the request of the commissioners.
The exception here is the Sheriff's Office. Its employees receive a 5 percent contribution by the county because of a legal mandate, Brook said.
Of 85 counties responding to a survey by the UNC School of Government, 43 reported making a contribution to 401(k) accounts. The survey shows that 19 make a contribution of 5 percent or higher, 11 contribute 3 to 5 percent, and 13 contribute half a percent to 3 percent.
The 401(k) program was not the only employee benefit examined by the board.
Brook's report covered the difference between longevity and service pay requirements and the policy applying to longevity protected by traditional grandfathering.
Longevity pay amounts are based on length of continuous service to the county and a percentage of the employee's annual rate of base pay on the date of eligibility as of July 3 of each year with the payment being made on the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving Day. Rates start at 1 percent for employees with three to five years of continuous service and gradually rise by 1 percent to a cap of 4 percent for 21 years or longer.
Service pay requires at least 10 years of service with an evaluation score of at least 300. As of January this year, 64 employees received service pay.
Performance evaluation ratings include a score of 400 for exceptional performance, 300 to 399 for commendable performance, 200 to 299 for proficient performance.
Brook reported that employees scoring between 100 to 199 are rated as not proficient and are placed on a work plan and receive a 3.25 percent decrease in pay for 60 days. She said there are no employees scoring below 100 and rated unacceptable.
Some changes in the rating tables might be considered to make the system fairer to employees, Brook said. She suggested that the board might consider the addition of such ratings as highly proficient and highly commendable, with scoring changed between categories, as a possible improvement.
Lea said he appreciates the value of long-serving employees and added that his greatest concern is avoiding firing or laying off anyone.
Board Chairman Nick Picerno expressed belief in performance pay with longevity. He said the board's intent is to reward employees for good performance and faithfulness. Picerno mentioned a second look at longevity or a revamping of performance-based pay scales as possible solutions to the dilemma.
Picerno said he had spent much of the day hearing budget information presented by various county departments in preparation for the 2011-12 budget. He noted that the commissioners still have not received budget requests from the public schools and the college, both expected to suffer huge cuts from the state this year.
No action was taken, but Picerno said the board may tweak some of the benefit rates before approving the new budget later this spring.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at email@example.com.
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