BOA agrees merit pay should be based on merit

by Kelly Corbett
Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Following seven hours spent discussing town issues, the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen will hold a series of workshops and further conversations to gather more information and come to a consensus on items like merit pay for town employees, water and sewer infrastructure improvements and live streaming and video archives of board meetings.

The board did agree during the Saturday, Jan. 11 annual retreat that merit pay for town employees should be based on merit.

“I hear we have a great training department,” said Alderwoman Lisa Weeks. “Train them, then someone else hires them.”

Within the 2013-14 budget, there is an approved 2 percent COLA adjustment and 1 percent merit adjustment. A 1 percent merit adjustment would cost $35,000 for the full fiscal year.

“We have had some turnover lately. More than I would care for,” said town manager Tim Owens. “… Some of them are promotions, obviously. Some of them are lateral moves with more pay.”

Fire chief Frank Smith said three out of 12, or 25 percent, of the fire department’s employees have left, with another employee currently in talks with New Hanover County about a position.

“I truly want merit to be merit, the way I’ve always understood it,” Mayor Bill Blair said. “That’s what I’m going to push for.”

Smith said he did not understand Blair’s comments, and the number approved by the board is a total effect on payroll with department heads determining raises for each employee.

“We take that evaluation form very seriously, put a great amount of time in it,” Smith said.

Police chief Dan House agreed with Smith, saying he has no problem giving a zero raise.

“I’m not going to let someone get a raise that clearly doesn’t deserve one,” House said.

Owens said he would work on a merit-system model and bring the item back to the January meeting to work out logistics.

Water and sewer

A list of water and sewer infrastructure upgrades, totaling $2.9 million through fiscal year 2016-17, will be considered when the board sets water rates for fiscal year 2014-15.

The town’s water rate is currently $1.01 per 100 cubic feet, generating $260,000 in revenue per year.

Assistant public works director Steve Dellies described the problems and projects to board members during the retreat.

The largest project, totaling $700,000 through 2020, is to modernize 3,000 water meters. The meters cost about $160 each and have a lifespan of 20 years.

Blair said he remembers some of the same issues from six years ago when he was on the board.

“The sky is not falling, but it could be,” said public works director Mike Vukelich.

Live streaming

The previous board approved live streaming and archiving videos from meetings in October 2012 and first streamed a meeting in January 2013. The new board discussed the $499 annual Livestream basic plan and whether to continue the service or upgrade during the retreat.

“I think it’s a great tool if people are using it,” Blair said. “… If we’re getting a fair amount of people watching it, then it has value.”

There are 48 followers of the Livestream account, with anywhere from two to 95 views per meeting. Planning board meetings have a viewership averaging about 40 people.

To be able to embed videos on the town’s website would raise the annual price to $3,999.

The board continued the item, but will make a decision before the current plan ends on April 25.

“At some point, I think we need to upgrade our website,” Owens said. “It’s not very user friendly.”

In the meantime, town staff will also try disseminating information through social media, including Facebook and Twitter. 


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