The Town of Clayton is significantly raising pay for a third of its workforce for the first time in nearly a decade.
The Town Council approved the raises on the heels of a pay study comparing Clayton’s salary ranges to those in neighboring towns. Though it had been years since the council boosted pay ranges, the wage hikes come in a fiscal year in which the council also raised property taxes.
The pay study looked at employees in the town’s fire, police, human resources, public works and electric departments, with raises for top positions ranging from 7 percent in fire and electric to nearly 39 percent in human resources.
Mayor Jody McLeod defended the 39-percent bump in pay for human resources director Catherine Whitley, who will make $88,000 this year. McLeod noted that Whitley’s job duties had changed over the years, but the council had not taken a look at her pay since 2004.
“She had not had any type of increase in so long,” the mayor said. “She had been here since we were 60 employees. Now we’re 169. To look at it on paper, it’s a crazy jump, but it had been such a very long time since anything had been done to it.”
Whitley, like other town employees, had received cost-of-living pay increases over the years. But the council had never adjusted her pay to reflect her greater responsibilities in a growing town with a growing town labor force.
Under Clayton’s old pay schedule, the salary range for HR director ranged from $56,607 to $85,722. The pay study recommended a new range of $65,159 to $100,996.
The same position in Fuquay-Varina, the closest town to Clayton in population, pays $68,000, according to state data. Apex, a town twice Clayton’s size, pays its human-resources director $111,000. Holly Springs pays $105,000, and Garner pays $78,000.
Council members said they ordered the study as a means of keeping pace with pay in towns that compete with Clayton for employees.
Councilman Jason Thompson said the town had a history of losing police officers to higher-paying towns once Clayton had trained them. “We want to be envied around the area because we pay them for the work they do,” he said.
The study actually recommended slightly reducing Clayton’s top pay for a police officer from $60,957 to $59,052, though no current police officer makes within $10,000 of that mark.
Thompson said he didn’t think the pay raises would have been possible without the town’s tax hike, at least not without cutting services.
“Raising taxes was the last-resort thing we could do, and this is an election year,” he said. “During the recession, we had layoffs, and this year we’re actually restoring the town back to that level, plus a couple new positions. We couldn’t be the premiere community for active families without the adjustment. If we don’t have happy employees, we have more turnover, and then more is invested.”
McLeod said the tax hike and raises were separate issues. The town needed the money, he said, to offset the loss of revenue from privilege licenses, which the General Assembly ended.
“The reason we asked for an increase is not so we could pay employees more,” the mayor said. “I don’t think there’s a direct correlation; they’re apples and oranges. The scenario played out that if not for the increase – a progressive stance, small increase – other areas would be cut back significantly.”
Town Manager Steve Biggs has attributed the tax increase to the $125,000 loss in privilege license revenue and to higher insurance premiums, which will cost the town $269,000 more this fiscal year. The property-tax increase will generate about $401,000.
The study outlined three pay-raise options for the town to consider, with the smallest costing $212,576 this year and the largest adding up to $450,950.
Clayton went with the lowest-cost option, which moved salaries to the minimum of the recommended range and added 1 percent for each year of service. The raises added up to 4 percent of the town’s payroll this year.
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