State Politics

NC agencies ask to keep contract workers

State agencies defended their use of personal services contracts to a panel of lawmakers Monday, saying they need the flexibility to hire workers with special skills who would not consider becoming permanent state employees.

Legislators are thinking about eliminating such contracts following a report last month from the legislative Program Evaluation Division that they are being misused. A division report said agencies are not seeking the proper approvals, are signing multiyear contracts, and, in some cases, are paying contractors more than the highest-paid state executives.

Lorrie Dollar, chief operating officer at the state Department of Public Safety, said the agency needs the contracts to pay dentists, doctors and other medical personnel who wouldn’t work full-time in prisons for wages below what they’d make in the public sector.

Many state prisons are in rural areas that have doctor shortages, she said.

“Very often we have niche requirements,” she said. “We’re not able to pay to meet the market rate.”

Representatives from the state Department of Health and Human Services said they faced challenges similar to Public Safety and asked that any new law allow for flexibility in contracting.

Dollar’s husband, Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary, sits on the legislative committee that on Monday considered stricter rules for personal services contracts.

His was the sole vote against drafting legislation that would clamp down on such contracts and require all executive branch agencies to use the state temp service, called Temporary Solutions, for short-term hires.

In February 2013, Gov. Pat McCrory issued an executive order that requires cabinet agencies to use Temporary Solutions, which is run from Office of State Human Resources.

Anthony Solari, lobbyist for the state Treasurer’s Office, said it had problems with employees provided through Temporary Solutions. The Treasurer’s Office is not a Cabinet agency but Solari said it complied with McCrory’s executive order.

Solari said the office had trouble getting bilingual workers and received employees who provided poor customer service.

Neal Alexander, state human resources director, said the office wants to make sure it provides quality and qualified candidates for agencies to consider.