Cornelius Town hall

Cornelius has been given the suggestion to hire a full-time human resources employee to help retain town staff.

The issue: Study showed some positions were underpaid

The Town of Cornelius participated in a salary study along with the towns of Davidson and Huntersville. As an added measure, Cornelius also had a citizen’s compensation and benefits committee work with the human resources consultant, Susan Manning, as it had when a study was done just for the town two years ago. Like before, the group found several positions where town employees were determined to be paid less when they were hired or have lower salary ranges compared to similar jobs in 19 N.C. communities. Of the 37 positions studied, 17 were found to be below market rate. Police officer and telecommunicator roles, which have the most openings currently in Cornelius, were found to not have competitive salaries at the minimum hiring rate. The study showed the overall result was an increase in employee turnover, which was costing the town more money to recruit, hire and train people. 


What happened: Some findings questioned by commissioners

After having the study presented to them at their first December meeting, Cornelius commissioners were able to have a lengthy discussion about the findings during the Dec. 17 pre-meeting workshop. Many were concerned about the number of positions found to be underpaid and the hundreds of thousands of dollars recommended to be spent to correct the issue. Mayor Woody Washam – and others – believe there is a problem based on the data and hope to find a solution. Some asked if the town could hire employees already trained to save on that expense but were told they would have to increase the salary to hire more experienced people. Others sought non-monetary incentives like increased vacation or schedule flexibility. There was also concern about the belief turnover was based almost entirely on salaries. Town staff and Commissioner David Gilroy have called former employees and found there were other reasons people left. 


What it means: Hiring of human resources personnel suggested

While the study presented findings based on analyzed data, the committee offered recommendations on what the town could do to fix the problem now and in the future. One of the biggest takeaways the committee found was the need for a full-time human resources position to stop these same results each time a study is done. The town currently enlists department heads to handle all of the human resources work, including exit interviews, recruitment and hiring. Committee members told the board it’s the only town in the area without an HR position. Having that role would take the time away from department leaders and enable someone with HR skills to do better recruitment, keep a pulse on the market employee data and to provide a consistent and objective method to finding out why staff are leaving. 


What’s next: Discussions expected to continue

Town Manager Andrew Grant said he hoped staff would come back with revised numbers on how many people left because of compensation concerns. Washam quipped that it felt like the town’s purpose in life was to simply funnel employees elsewhere but said people enjoy working for the town. Gilroy reinforced that even as people left, “We’ve got a deep bench,” and that the town has continued running without issue because of the talent and experience they do have. Washam wants more information on non-monetary pieces that could incentivize employees to stay. Commissioners also worried if raised salaries would be part of a cycle of the other towns raising salaries in response. Committee members said the town could adjust rates so they are competitive and give raises that are merited. Non-monetary incentives, retention strategies and recruitment are likely to be continued topics of discussions.


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