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Commissioner Paul Higdon opposes COLA for Macon County employees

When Macon County Manager Derek Roland presented his 2022-23 proposed budget, he recommended providing all full-time county employees with a 1-step advancement in the pay scale and a three percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for all employees. During a budget work session last week, Macon County Commissioner Paul Higdon said due to uncertain economic times and the pay study implementation that was completed last year, he did not support the COLA this fiscal year. 

“We are in tough economic times right now and I think in years past our average is 2 percent in normal times and I just personally think that a 3 percent COLA plus a step increase is a little bit hefty,” said Commissioner Paul Higdon. 

Roland noted that while there may be economic uncertainties, the county is currently in stable financial consistent and can fully support the proposed increase within the revenues available in the county today. Roland also noted that since the pay study adjustments were increased, inflation has increased 3.5 percent, making the day-to-day expenses for county employees difficult to maintain without a COLA to offset it. 

“While our pay study brought the starting pay for a deputy to $17.50 an hour, you have fast-food restaurants out there today starting pay at $15 an hour or constructions sites that have starting pay to sweep up a construction site at $20-$25 per hour,” said Roland. “We need to remain competitive with not just other local governments, but private-sector jobs too.” 

The 1-step advancement amounts to an approximate 1.5 percent increase per employee resulting in a $198,489 increase in the county budget. The 3 percent COLA will result in a budget increase of $726,571. 

The North Carolina League of Municipalities recently published the FY 22-23 Anticipated Cost of Living Adjusts and Merit Increase Survey results and of the 223 respondents across North Carolina, 87 percent reported they are planning to provide COLA and/or merit increases in their upcoming budgets. The statewide average planned COLA is 4.7 percent with planned merit increases ranging from 1.8 percent to 3.7 percent according to survey results. 

In addition to the NCLM survey, Roland stated he reviewed information from the Western North Carolina Managers Association that indicated the average COLA increase in Western North Carolina to be around 6 percent. 

“At the end of the day, we would not be able to provide the services we do without the work of our employees,” said Roland. “Our employees are this county’s greatest asset and we want to ensure we keep them here. The proposed COLA and step increase will allow Macon County to remain competitive in the region and will ensure that the pay plan adjustments we implemented last year stay on track for the rest of the state. We do not want to lose good employees to areas with better benefits. We want to keep our employees right here in Macon County and continuing to serve our citizens.” 

Macon County Commissioner Jim Tate noted that although he works in the private sector, as a business owner he would not be able to retain employees with less than a 4.5 percent COLA — and referred to the proposed 3 percent COLA for Macon County employees as “minimal considering what things are happening in the national economy right now.”

Commissioner Josh Young said while he shares Commissioner Higdon’s “heartburn” on the amount of the increase and he doesn’t like the cost of it, he can justify it and the need for an increase based on the current economy. 

Macon County Commissioners will be meeting tonight, Tuesday June 14 at 6 p.m. and will be holding a public comment period on the proposed budget, including the COLA proposal for county employees.

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