Northampton DSS workers disgruntled with pay raise

Published 6:03 pm Friday, April 8, 2022

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JACKSON – Several employees of Northampton County’s Department of Social Services (DSS) attended the Board of Commissioners meeting here on April 4 to share some concerns about a recent pay raise.

Terri Ireland, a DSS employee, spoke during the citizen comment portion of the meeting on behalf of her coworkers.

“We come to you this evening in regards to the recent pay changes that were put forth,” Ireland explained. “Some of us are a little disgruntled with those pay changes, and we would like to know how you all came to those decisions.”

Ireland noted that all county employees were brought up to a minimum of $15 an hour, regardless of their position. But most DSS workers, she added, only received hourly raises ranging from 23 cents to 55 cents.

As a personal example, Ireland shared that she had only received a 23-cent increase in her position as an IMC II (Income Maintenance Caseworker, Level II), and is now making only $1.14 per hour more than a housekeeper.

“We have a substantial amount of work to do during the day,” she continued, mentioning just a few examples of what their daily work entails.

“We would really just like to see what your results were based on, what the evidence is, and how you all came to the conclusion of our pay raise,” Ireland stated. “We hope that you all can empathize with us. We’re struggling just like everyone else.”

She concluded her comments by reiterating her request for an explanation and asked the commissioners to reconsider.

As per the Board of Commissioners’ longstanding policy for citizen comments, they did not engage in discussion during the meeting itself, but promised a subsequent response from county staff to any questions.

Back in September 2020, the commissioners approved a contract with the MAPS Group to conduct a pay study which would update job descriptions and the personnel policy as well as provide recommendations to make pay more equitable and competitive.

Becky Veazey of the MAPS Group presented an overview of the study’s methodology at the commissioners’ meeting on June 21, 2021. But no decision on implementing the plan was discussed at that time.

It was at the January 5, 2022 meeting that the pay study was discussed again. Robert Murphy, who was working with the county as a consultant in the absence of a full-time county manager, recommended getting Veazey to do a small update to the study since it had been almost a year since its completion.

That recommendation was approved, and Murphy brought the matter back before the board again a few weeks later on January 31 to discuss a partial implementation of the updated pay plan.

“One of the hazards in the development of these plans is, quite often, counties will get them and say ‘well, we got it, we’ll get to it at some point’,” Murphy explained, noting that waiting too long will make it more costly to implement.

“We can tell from the turnover in county positions, the difficulty in recruiting, the difficulty in keeping people, that the [old] plan was out of date, and we were not competitive,” Murphy added about the need to move forward with the matter.

Under the recommendation to partially implement the pay raise plan, Murphy stated it would cover the period beginning March 1 through the end of the fiscal year. The cost was $146,552 for that time period, and would be a little over $440,000 to continue annually. Murphy noted that he’d discussed the cost with the finance department, and the consensus was that the plan was affordable for the county.

Veazey also spoke during that January 31 meeting to explain a bit about the implementation plan, which she called “very conservative.”

“It means there’s a significant amount of compression,” she said, “and compression is when long-term employees and brand-new employees are too close together in the pay range. That’s why it’s an important step to start with this Step One phase-in, but it’ll also be important to do Step Two next year, to help widen out and reduce that compression.”

The commissioners unanimously approved the partial implementation at that meeting.

In the Roanoke-Chowan area, Bertie County DSS employees shared similar concerns last year after receiving only a small cost of living raise when the commissioners approved their budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

The Bertie County Board of Commissioners responded to those concerns by doing a salary comparison with surrounding counties, including Hertford, Chowan, and Martin County. The results showed Bertie DSS workers near the top of that list, and the commissioners made no changes.