Wood: Auditors leaving government for higher pay elsewhere

Posted August 6, 2013

— State Auditor Beth Wood says she has been losing staff this summer because state government salaries can't keep pace with what private accounting firms offer.

"I can't meet the market salary," Wood, a Democrat, told Gov. Pat McCrory during Tuesday morning's Council of State meeting.

McCrory, a Republican, said that other state agencies were having similar problems and noted that the state budget set aside a $7.5 million salary adjustment fund to boost salaries where needed.

"We have some flexibility," McCrory said, offering to speak with Wood later.

McCrory oversees the budget, although Wood is elected separately.

Salaries and benefits for state workers and teachers use up much of the state's $20.6 billion budget. This year, lawmakers did not give either state workers or teachers a pay raise, and stagnant salaries have been a point of contention in state government for years.

Earlier this year, McCrory earned some criticism for raising the salaries for his cabinet secretaries, saying the boost was needed to attract good executives to his cabinet.

In some ways, the auditor's problem is the same as other state agencies with specialized workers might face. Lawyers in the Department of Justice or engineers working for the environment and transportation departments might find fatter paychecks in the private market. 

"This has long been a problem since some large law firms offer new law school graduates higher starting salaries than we can pay senior attorneys," said Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Justice and Attorney General Roy Cooper. "The university system and large cities and counties also routinely recruit our attorneys with higher salaries as does the federal government."

Talley said the Department of Justice also has a problem hanging on to technical workers in its crime labs as well.

"They have agents and forensic scientists recruited away by private sector, federal and local governments who can afford to pay more than the state," Talley said. "For example, some toxicologists leave the State Crime Lab because they can make 20 percent more elsewhere for a county or private lab."

Those remarks echoed what Wood said Tuesday morning. In a follow-up email, a spokesman for her agency said it has lost 12 employees over the past 60 days.

"We're pretty competitive on the entry salary," Wood said. "But once we train them, spend a couple-plus years with them, my staff is leaving for jobs in the private sector."

Particularly troubling, she said, was that the people who are leaving are either supervisors or have sufficient experience where they can take on supervisory roles. 

"I've lost at least three supervisors over the last 30 days," she said. "You can't just go out on the street and pick up a supervisor." 

Those private-sector jobs, she said, are paying 20 percent more and are luring auditors and accountants away from her office at the rate of about two a week for the past two months. Of the auditor's office roughly 150 positions, 130 are filled with such professionals. They are responsible for ensuring that state government funds are spent as the legislature intended and investigating reports of misappropriated and wasted money. 

"When somebody's being offered 20 percent more than what they can make in my office, that's a hard thing to turn down," Wood said. "If I train them well, and they're as good or better than any CPA in the state of North Carolina, they should be making what's in the market."


This blog post is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • notexactly Aug 7, 2013

    Plenty coups
    Nope sorry, the dems last education budget was 7.3 mil in 2009 when they had control. The 2013 budget from the reps. is 7.9mil. So your are very wrong. by the way, the 2013 education budget is the highest it has ever been. Also the surplus most likely will go to pay back the feds for the unemployment payments. We are in debt to our eyeballs because of the DEMS control for so long kicking the can down the road. They own that

  • Viewer Aug 7, 2013

    You get what you pay for, in this case professional positions filled by trainees who move on after they have finished their apprenticeship.

  • anametoknow Aug 6, 2013

    I know I left a pseudo accounting position in the state for an accounting career not job in the private sector earning 20% more in salary. Who wants to work for NC state government that does not rewards its employee monetarily. It only piled on
    more boring work using out-dated accounting systems which do not increase one accounting/auditing skills or knowledge. An accountant/auditor would be crazy to stay with the state now unless he/she are near retirement. I'm love my private job. I'm looking forward to merit raises and free gifts and an employee appreciation day that I do not have to pay for myself.

  • Luv2Camp Aug 6, 2013

    Perhaps Ms. Wood, who is extremely well qualified for her job, should consider outsourcing some of her auditing work. Her former employees might like the additional revenue stream while, at the same time,the State could save some $.

  • Luv2Camp Aug 6, 2013

    What do these auditors and accountants make per year?

  • wlbbjb Aug 6, 2013

    Maybe Ms Wood could share her salary with the employees she's so concerned about. Her employees are no more deserving than the rest of the state employees.

  • SaveEnergyMan Aug 6, 2013

    Same thing happening elsewhere in state govt with any skilled position. Wood is not alone here. If you want decent, skilled state workers, then you have to pay them something resembling market wages. Otherwise they go elsewhere and the state gets stuck with the bottom of the barrel.

    I understand times are tough but state employees have suffered too. Salaries are going up in the private sector but not in state govt (1.1% total in raises/COLA in the last 5 years - except at the highest levels, of course). Working for the state should not be akin to charity work.

  • golorealist Aug 6, 2013

    "Btw-- i'm retired so none of you JOKERS in raleigh can touch me." - wildpig777

    are you on a state pension? don't make the mistake of thinking your pension is untouchable.

  • golorealist Aug 6, 2013

    " Hundreds of folks inside and outside this state need jobs. You will not have a problem replacing them." - GoSteelers

    you fail to realize that there is currently a shortage of qualified accountants. these roles aren't as easy to fill as you seem to think they are.

  • RichardE Aug 6, 2013

    The state had a surplus this year and they have 600 million in a rainy day fund. They chose tax cuts over paying state workers more. -Plenty Coups

    Yep they did. And sadly, some of those business tax cuts were necessary for NC to be competitive. I suspect fairly soon that we will see lots of states (other than Wyoming or Nevada) that have no corporate taxes. This means that the individual will have to pick up the slack for lost revenue--whether that be taxes, fees or some other means. Other than lip service, my guess is that teachers or state employees don't really matter to the current administration. Why should they? Their kids don't go to public schools. That being said, we are due for a major hurricane. That 600 million might be useful with clean-up and recovery efforts.