The Guilford County Board of Commissioners weren’t giving out presents right before Christmas, but they did hand out some raises to the county employees who work directly for them or those whose salary they determine.
This month, after a series of closed sessions to discuss the performance of the directors, the board gave out an interesting series of raises to those who are already some of the county’s highest paid employees. The raises were particularly specific this year – with amount of increases being, in one case, 2.0592 percent, and in others, 2.5685 percent and 2.3913 percent.
The county commissioners determine the salaries of eight employees: two elected directors, one appointed and five who work directly for the board. All of the raises take effect on Jan. 8, 2017.
Guilford County Board of Elections Director Charlie Collicutt, Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen and Sheriff BJ Barnes all got 2.25 percent increases. Collicutt will go from a current salary of $92,534 to $94,616 in the New Year. Thigpen, whose salary is $116,016, will be making $118,626 – a far cry from the fraction of that amount he was making working for the admission’s department of Guilford College before he got elected register of deeds in 2004. Barnes, who’s currently making $150,277 a year will soon be pulling in $153,658 for running the county’s Sheriff’s Department.
In those three cases, the board kept the raises in line with the average salary increase of county employees this year. County employees will get varying amounts depending on their performance, special efforts and a few other factors, however, the average merit pay provided by the Board of Commissioners in the 2016-2017 budget comes to 2.25 percent for the county’s roughly 2,300 employees.
“Their increase percentage mirrors what the merit budget was funded at this year,” Guilford County Human Resources Director John Dean said of the three elected and appointed directors’ salaries the commissioners decide.
Dean added that the remaining five salaries “had their increase percentages determined similar to how regular county employees increases are calculated.”
Those are the salaries where the commissioners got very specific, going four decimal points deep. Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing was bumped up from $193,261 to $197,241, a 2.0592 percent increase; Tax Director Ben Chavis went from $118,690.8320 to $121,529.1405 – though it’s not clear how the county is going to provide him with the amounts of less than a penny. That’s an increase of 2.3913 percent for the tax director.
Guilford County Finance Director Reid Baker salary will go from $143,885.6050 to $147,326.4089 next month, a 2.3913 percent increase; Clerk to the Board Robin Keller will go from $72,882.1789 to $74,754.1436 – a 2.5685 percent raise, while Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne will move up in county pay from $160,103.1935 to $163,470.9642, a 2.1035 percent increase.
In the county attorney’s case, each year the board also has to rehire the attorney – or, basically, confirm that they want to keep him or her. So Payne got that added perk of being kept around for another year. Payne has been the county attorney for seven years, which means his tenure with Guilford County is now seven times longer than the previous six county attorneys combined. (Guilford County ran through a half dozen attorneys or interim attorneys in the year before Payne was hired.)
Payne said this week that the “direct reports” to the board, such as himself, typically get called in by the Board of Commissioners for an annual review near the end of the year. In recent meetings, the board has been discussing the performances of the eight and, in some cases, they’ve had concerns with the directors they oversee.
In the case of Thigpen and Barnes, their employment status with the county is determined by the voters every four years.
Several of the eight have had unusual years this year. Keller has had to operate for much of 2016 with no deputy clerk; every time she hires one they move on quickly to some other county department. Thigpen has been expanding the deeds office – recently making it into a passport office in addition to one that offers the typical deeds services. Collicutt has had a particularly busy year with all sorts of election craziness.
Collicutt said this week that things were finally dying down.
“We’re able to relax a little bit,” he said.
He said he and the Board of Elections had been so busy at the end of the year that there really hadn’t been time for the usual evaluation process of his performance. Usually, the Board of Elections makes recommendations to the Board of Commissioners regarding the election director’s pay.
Guilford County Commissioner Alan Branson said that the highly precise nature of the raises came about largely due to a formula used as part of the evaluation. He said that formula takes into account average pay increases in those directors’ departments and other factors that he’s not entirely sure of.
“Some felt they should get more,” Branson said of some of the directors, “but they’re making six figures – they’re making very good income.”
He said the flip side of the coin is that many of them are expected “to be available 24/7.”
Commissioner Ray Trapp said he finds the current process filled with problems and that he doesn’t think the board’s employees get a proper evaluation. He said he’s a lot more concerned about the “working poor” in Guilford County than he is whether a high paid director gets a few thousand more a year, but he added that he would rather see ordinary county employees get closer to 3.5 to 5 percent raises each year than the current 2.25 percent.
Trapp also pointed out that the county commissioners don’t get yearly increases in their pay, which is about $20,000 annually for being a commissioner – and a little more for the chairman and vice chairman.
“If we tried to give ourselves annual raises, people would go nuts,” Trapp said.