Iredell County commissioners kicked off their annual winter planning retreat Thursday with an in-depth discussion of a study detailing how the pay of county employees compares to surrounding counties.

A market competitiveness study revealed that Iredell County trails its neighbors in pay and recruitment efforts.

One example where Iredell lags is the compensation of sheriff’s deputies. The minimum pay in Iredell is $39,924, which is significantly below the market average of $44,847. The study recommends increasing the minimum pay for this position to $42,322.93.

The second piece of the puzzle, which is designed to help the county retain its current employees, involves adjusting the pay scale to address salary compression, which means in some departments new employees earn almost as much as more experienced co-workers.

County Manager Beth Mull explained that one of the reasons the county is behind in this area is because of the competition for a small pool of applicants has been driving up salaries for qualified employees. The county has started addressing compression issues from previous years but is still trying to catch up, Mull said.

Human Resources Director Sandra Gregory explained a proposal that would involve implementing a new pay scale system that would classify positions into three series. Each series would look at job responsibilities and duties, she said, and result in classifying each employee into the 100 (public safety), 200 (specialty) or 300 (administration) series. This would allow the county to establish and maintain market competitiveness.

Each series would extend the pay grade range from 55.1 percent to 56 percent and increase the percentage differential between each grade from 4.6 percent to 4.8 percent.

Implementing this strategy, Gregory said, would make the county more competitive. The estimated cost would be $6 million.

The county has 71 full-time job openings as of February 17, she said, adding that 47 of those vacancies, or 65 percent, are in public safety.

“We need to make sure we’re paying our staff, retaining our staff and not replacing the staff we’ve already trained,” Mull said. “Our No. 1 priority is the market study to get us competitive. If we can do that, it will help us in our recruitment efforts.”

Board Chairman James Mallory said that there are other factors contributing to the large number of open positions, including childcare issues, different priorities for Millennials and people preferring jobs that offer flexibility, such as working from home.

Mull asked the board for permission to move forward with this framework to address recruitment in series 100 in public safety. Mallory said that he wasn’t ready to commit to the recommendation and asked for additional details to better understand how it would play out.

The board asked Mull to come back with specific numbers for each series and the cost of going from 4.6 to 4.8 and then to 5 percent differential in areas where employee turnover is higher.

The winter retreat continues Friday at the Iredell County Cooperative Extension Office.

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