A little over a year ago Flagler County government commissioned a salary study that found pay disparities among its 370 employees and proposed certain pay ranges to address the gaps. Some employees were underpaid, some overpaid: no one took a pay cut, of course, but some employees got raises.
But the pay study “wasn’t implemented in its fullest,” Pamela Wu, the county administration’s human resources director, told county commissioners at a workshop earlier this week. She was proposing that Evergreen Solutions, the company that conducted the 2018 study for $38,500, be paid again to conduct another one. This time it would cost $48,000.
Wu cited the county’s turnover rate as an issue, along with morale. “Right now we’ve had several voluntary resignation, we’re at a 13.88 percent turnover rate the last six months.”
In exit interviews, Wu gets one of two answers to her questions about the reasons behind the employee’s departure. “Usually the first is that they’re unable to meet their financial obligations with the rate of pay that they’re making here at the county,” she said. “The second answer I get is, well, I wasn’t really looking but–someone either told me of a position that’s either similar or same, in a neighboring county or city, where they’re paying either two to four dollars higher than what we are. So they’ve opted to apply and have received an offer for that job. So it’s clearly a compensation issue, and that’s why we’re unable to retain our employees.”
But turn-over in a low-unemployment economy is nothing unusual, and it’s been rising year after year, in counter-proportion to the decline in the unemployment rate, which stands at a historic low. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, annual turnover in all industries was 44 percent in 2018. In government, which traditionally has the lowest turnover rates, it was 18.7 percent, and in local government specifically, it was 18.5 percent. Excluding public schools, the local-government turnover rate was 20 percent, up from 18.5 percent in 2014. So Flagler County’s rate is far less shocking than it first seems, without the added context.
Commissioner Donald O’Brien asked Wu for the sort of comparative figures that would provide some of that context. Wu did not have the figures just then.
Commissioners were also curious about why the 2018 recommendations were not implemented to their fullest.
“My understanding of that was it was a funding issue,” Wu said.
“And we supposedly do now?” Commissioner Greg Hansen asked.
“That’s something that we would need to discuss,” she said.
Michael Misrahi, a senior consultant with Evergreen, summarized the 2018 study’s findings, which concluded that county employees’ pay as a whole was about 5 percent “behind the market.” A step-based pay approach was proposed at the time, as was adjusting pay grade assignments in 82 classes. “We want to make sure that all employees are making the baseline of their salary range,” he said.
He echoed the same reasons for repeating the study as Wu provided: The 2018 study was to be implemented over a three-year period, through 2021, but the 2018 market rates would come to fruition in 2021, even as the market rate keeps moving. “And so that’s probably the prime concern, would be that your structure would continue to follow out of date if the current course is followed,” Misrahi said.
But even Misrahi said that the turnover rate in Flagler is not inherent to Flagler at all: “You guys are starting to experience some of the real-world issues that come along with compensation challenges, and that’s the spike in turnover and then those hard to fill increases that you may be seeing,” he said. The turnover in trades and blue-collar sectors, he said, “wasn’t surprising to us. That is something we’re seeing across the state and in your guys’ region in particular, across this county, across Volusia County, we’ve seen it going further south, we’ve seen a lot of that. I can tell you jobs like building inspectors are some of the most competitive across the state right now, that all organizations are having issues with, so a lot of the challenges you’re facing are not unique to you, but it sounds like you guys are experiencing them a little bit more severe than some of our other clients recently.”
But that’s not, in fact, documented but only speculated, as O’Brien again underlined: “We don’t know it’s a spike because we don’t know what the historical data is,” O’Brien said.
He wanted more clarity about why the previous study was not fully implemented. Wu said the more senior employees–those making more money already, in effect–were those whose pay was increased. That was not unusual during the years Craig Coffey was the county administrator. (He once claimed, without documentation, that his own employees wanted him to have a 15 percent pay increase when employees were getting at best 1 percent).
The current administrator, Jerry Cameron, told commissioners that having competitive pay was crucial to retaining employees, though he did not offer information commissioners did not already know: “Our biggest competitors are not the government. Our biggest competitors are the private sector,” he said. “At the expense of a lot of other things that we might like to do, we need to get competitive because when we hire someone in, and to get a decent person, we have to pay a salary that is above people who have already been working here five or six years. That tells you immediately that the market is likely to take your existing workforce away from you. That’s why this is so critical.”
But as has been increasingly been the case on Cameron’s watch, the presentation was lacking critical information as well, such as the state of the county’s budget in relation to the “critical” need for salary increases.
Commissioners were still unconvinced, given the recent history.
“The commission all agreed, yes, let’s all do this, and then to our chagrin we find out the plan was not implemented,” Hansen said. “Can you guarantee us if we go through this drill again that the plan will be implemented? I mean, I find that troubling that we all agreed on the plan and then it wasn’t implemented.”
“I would not suggest spending money that I did not intend to implement,” Cameron said. “In fact, this subject would never have made it to you if I didn’t think there wasn’t a real need to address what was a deficiency before.”
Hansen wanted assurances about how the study would be implemented, once completed.
“I can assure you that there will be a thorough airing of the results of this, and if I take exception to any part of it, I will not unilaterally change it, you would be part of that process,” Cameron said.
John Kent says
The world gone crazy! Lol. What are all those useless people are doing “working” for the county?
So let’s pay that company every year for a study that we shall never implement. Got it.
They have 48,000 of taxpayers money to waste!
Cut taxes, let me have my money back, let those employees go into the private sector, shrink that bloated government, stop that waste of buying rotten buildings, overspending, building business locations that can not be rented, giving in to any developer demands while disregarding zoning and residents. Kick them all out.
Ok boomer says
I agree- no raises for anyone especially for people on social security who contribute less than those that work for government. Ok boomer?
Spare Me says
First and foremost I call BS on the County doing exit interviews. Unless you have Director in your title it’s “don’t let the door hit you in the bu**!” Sounds like to me someone threatened to divulge how shady the first salary study was implemented (aka manipulated)!
Exit-interviews??? How about YEARLY reviews??? I had ONE in the12+ years at Flagler County.
Eileen Curran says
If you look at what the county pays for family health insurance you might as well add 1,500.00 a month toward that pay scale! They are getting quite a deal.
Pete Celestino says
So the Commission approves a second salary study a year after the first study which the results were not implemented except for those senior employees already making more money. AND the second study costs nearly $10,000 more with no guarantee of implementation. Maybe they should have just distributed the money spent evenly among those of us that are underpaid instead of throwing it out the window again.
Percy's mother says
What more can be said about continued stupidity?
There is absolutely no reason for the BOCC to hire that firm again at $10,000 more!!!!! There is no reason they can’t look at all the records, see who is making and doing what, and fix the descrepancy themselves. We seem to pay lots of consultants to make a lot of decisions for the BOCC. The commissioners are paid over a Thousand dollars a week +medical insurance and they do not work 40 hours a week, even behind the scenes. They will get a raise soon from the state and will earn even more, as the BOCC salaries are decided by the state according to poulation, The more people that move here, the more salary they will make. At least that’s the way I understand it to be. The BOCC should be doing there own research into the salaries of employees and other issues and , if some deserve or need a raise, then just give it to them.
If they don’t want to put in the effort than at least search for a consultant company that would do it for less.
Palm Coaster Person says
Who is “they,” though? The HR staff of the entire county with their limited staff? The employees themselves? Who does this work? It’s not an easy task doing an operational analysis?
Ben Hogarth says
In consideration of the fact I am a former County employee and that I know several employees who are still serving, I feel compelled to speak up and provide more insight into how the previous administration failed to implement any “fair” and “uniform” method for compensation. I hope this Commission may learn from their previous mistake in trusting administration for their word. This may be a new regime, but the buck always stops with the Commission and the taxpayers.
First and foremost, the last study that was conducted was never “fully” implemented because the last administration did not feel compelled to have to justify raises for some employees over others. They instead, chose to take the simple path of least resistance by giving everyone a marginal (3%) increase (including employees who were already at or above where they should be). The report recommendations DID call for the 3%, but only as a small first step prior to transitioning underpaid employees to a higher (recommended) pay range – which clearly hasn’t happened. Here is the language from that report:
“The first alternative is a bring to minimum or 3 percent increase approach, where employee salaries are compared against the minimum of their proposed range, and if the employee’s salary falls below the minimum, they receive an adjustment up to the minimum salary. Furthermore, all employees receive a 3 percent salary adjustment, with the exception of those employees who moved by more than 3 percent to reach their new minimum. ”
So not only did they maintain an inequality of pay among staff members respective to their positions and qualifications, but they also failed to justly compensate key staff members who were GROSSLY underpaid for their respective positions. All of this was done simply so the last administration could save face with everyone, by compensating everyone a small amount.
Then, as in previous years, the administrator at that time chose to award special “post-budget” salary increases for members of upper (senior) management who were more loyal to the regime than others. I hear this was done without commission awareness or transparency. And if any budget changes were made via a budget amendment resolution during the year to incorporate these managers pay increases, I venture a guess the last administration would have hid it within one agenda item that resolved several issues at once. A common manager tactic for avoiding difficult public scrutiny.
We could go on and on, but I share commission skepticism about the efficacy of doing ANOTHER study. While I can’t speak to the methodology and scope of the study done last year, how can we assess performance if the study’s recommendations were never fully implemented in the first place? This may speak to the comfort level of the current administrator with activity and management decisions made by the last. But add the monetary cost to the list of taxpayer dollars wasted in the effort of righting the ship.
Let all of this be a valuable lesson Flagler.
For members of the public looking for the old agenda item detailing the report findings and recommendations:
The best thing for government is to have high turnover to keep the pay, and pension obligations low. The longer people stay, the more you have to pay. If government wants to pay private sector rates, they should expect private sector performance… which means you can be shown the door at any time.
Au Contraire says
Well according to the County’s latest personnel changes ALL employees are considered AT-WILL no matter what. That means they can fire you for the ugly X-mas sweater you wore to work.
CB from PC says
Biggest competitor is the private sector? I challenge anyone to show me a private employer in Flagler County which offers a pension, salary, vacation-sick time, health insurance package comparable to what government employees have.
You have to drive to Jacksonville to even come close…and private sector employers do not generally offer pensions unless you are in a Union. Good luck with that in Florida.
Oh, Exit interviews in the Private Sector are done under the eye of a big security guard, If then.
These entitled ingrates have no idea how good they have it.
This waste of our hard earned taxes is just unbearable by the BOCC again requested by Wu head of Human Resources. Here we are Palmcoasters with insufficient traffic enforcement units from the sheriff department over $600 ,000 requested, while we are paying double to the county in ad valorem taxes (house real estate tax yearly) that we pay the city of Palm Coast. The county needs to fork the 600,000 not Palm Coast, given our overpay to them as the city has 986 residents per square mile and the county only 189 per square mile to patrol and city provide us with 70% or more of our services. The traffic violations mostly by newcomers and visitors speeders, red light and signs runners, texting etc. are causing unheard amount of fatal or massive injuries accidents in Palm Coast in a daily basis otherwise request call records to 911 and find including our surrounding extensive water ways.
Meanwhile the county nickle and dimes taxpayers in traffic safety for Palmcoasters, regaling developers our quality of life for greed and spends fortunes in high rate former Florida Unethical Board Member in Tallahasee lawyer (Herron) suing residents or former constitutional officials that dare to uncover their wrong doings and buys derelict real state from well connected buddies to seat vacant and rotting away while FCBOCC keep depleting our pockets raising our taxes. On top of it all the new trend is that the shameful approved growth to greedy developers totally taking our quality of life away and undermining also our existing homes values has the residents having to spend in legal defense of their ignored rights and continue secretly manipulating and changing of zoning maps like they did as soon as ITT left Palm Coast: https://flaglerlive.com/147623/association-hammock-harbor-circuit-court/. Thank you Flaglerlive for reporting as 2020 is arriving soon and we need change.
Kudos to Pamela Wu and Cameron for attempting to provide salary increases. However wasting money for some BS company to tell you how much an employee should be paid is absurd. How about doing one on one EVALUATIONS with employees and give raises to the hard working people that deserve it. Not everyone deserves a raise! It should be based on performance and the people who don’t bring anything to the table can see the door. Some people working for Flagler County should be fired not given more money!
Not Really says
Kudos are definitely not needed here. The HR person who was hired at a much lower salary was given a substantial raise very soon after accepting the job therefore ticking off many other managers who had been there for YEARS! This is a good way to save face and try to be a hero for all.
The winners = Evergreen for getting almost 100K from the County!
The losers = County employees that bust their behind and told they are interchangeable!
Kudos to what..? to waste our hard earned overpaid taxes in this county?. The only victims are the Flagler County taxpayers specially the Palmcoasters. FCBOCC needs to come up with the 600,000 requested by Sheriff Staly for more traffic enforcement units for PC….because accidents are a becoming a plague and maniacs at the steering wheel and in motor bikes are out of control. Sheriff department needs less high performance fancy costly vehicles and more patrolling units instead when funds are tight. All these approved growth around us by county and city and insufficient traffic law enforcement. This is why we oppose uncontrolled growth.