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Near the end of the calendar year, Human Resources Director Christina Caudle said during Tuesday’s city council meeting, she told the council things were looking better as far as recruitment and retention. 

“I think I may have jinxed myself because things are not in that state anymore.”

At the end of 2022 there was a citywide turnover rate of just over 11 percent. “By the end of May, and you heard specifically with the police department that we have a few resignations that are in the process, our turnover rate will be 14 percent. That jumped almost three percentage points citywide in just a few short months.” 

(See related story at this link)

Caudle said the city is at the highest vacancy rate it has had in the last 12 months. “There are certain departments like police and fire that all the surrounding agencies smaller than us, larger than us, they’re all hiring at higher rates at every level where before it was more about that starting or entry rate. But as you grew in your profession it was harder to jump ship.”

Now, she said, that’s not necessarily the case. “I think that’s where the sense of urgency about competitive pay and looking at that cost of living adjustment is almost at a critical point for some of us managers in the room because we’re seeing that change in tides. It wasn’t like that last spring when we were having discussions on starting pay and not overall pay.”

The most recent report the city received from the North Carolina League of Municipalities at the end of April was a salary adjustment survey. 

She said 89 percent of the respondents are going to do a cost of living adjustment or a merit increase while 80 percent have indicated they are going to do both. 

For municipalities similar to Roanoke Rapids — Henderson, Reidsville and Tarboro — the average cost of living adjustment and merit increase last year was 5 percent, Caudle said. “This year their projections are six percent. What that says to me is that we’re going to be 11 percent behind the base of our closest comparison — our apples to apples.”

A police officer is leaving Roanoke Rapids to go to Henderson. “He’s taking two steps down in rank and is increasing his pay 40 percent,” Caudle said. “That’s a challenge.”

The officer has previous law enforcement experience, some leadership experience and is educated. “In the modern world when we attract younger and younger people, they are educated. Their experience comes but the education piece can put them on a faster track to increasing their wages.” 

Caudle said she believes that is an important factor to consider. “I think we do need a survey. I think it’s a great idea to ask our employees and get a number because we’re in a crunch time to make decisions. This is different from looking at Raleigh or Durham like we did last year. That’s not us but right now, our people that are like us — our Hendersons and Tarboros — are going to outpace us very quickly if we don’t do a COLA.”

Caudle said bonuses don’t give an employee’s “future self” a raise. “The way our pension program works, they look at the highest four years of pay over your career in local government. They average that out to an annual compensation and that’s what you get paid in the form of a pension. If we bonus people it helps them today but it does not help them in the future but as our competitors continue to change those competitive wages we’re going to lose everybody. We won’t be able to compete at any level.”

Caudle said she does believe it is a good idea to do a COLA plus and perhaps look at lower wage employees and give them a bonus and do a COLA across the board to adjust for inflation to make the city more competitive. “At the very minimum I think that a cost of living adjustment after what happened last year and what is projected to occur this year is very important.”

Councilman Carl Ferebee said there is a difference between COLA and adjustments. “We’ve said time and time again we need to look at our salaries as a whole. It has nothing to do with COLA. All COLA is going to do is take that $10 an hour guy and give him five percent which is still on that same level. We need to look at our departments, our starting salary, our mid-point and our max and do something with that. When we do that then I guarantee you guys our guys are going to like that better.” 

It may end up that the city takes a bite, Ferebee said, “But we need to do that. We’ve talked about it over and over again but I haven’t seen it and until we see it we’re going to be talking about the same thing because a five percent COLA ain’t going to do it.”

Caudle said she was ready to have that conversation. “It’s there. It needs to be looked at but COLA is a separate conversation from that. We’re talking about our existing employees that are here today. This is not a recruitment process. This is a retention process.”