Local Politics

Durham County raises raise eyebrows

Posted November 30, 2011 7:25 p.m. EST
Updated November 30, 2011 7:33 p.m. EST

— The Durham County Board of Commissioners' recent approval of salary increases for county employees of up to 32 percent, which has raised questions among some.

While most county employees were awarded raises of up to 4.25 percent, County Manager Mike Ruffin received a 10 percent raise and the clerk to the Board of Commissioners, Michelle Parker-Evans, got a 32 percent raise.

"We just feel like this is a misuse of taxpayer dollars," said Theodore Hicks, chairman of the Durham County Republican Party

Michael Page, chairman of the commissioners, said county salaries were frozen for three years before the raises.

"Many of these are working-class families. How do we continue to not be able to support them in some way?" he said to explain the board's thinking.

Page said Parker-Evans was given a raise from $61,000 to $80,313 because she had completed a certification program that county officials asked her to take when she was hired. According to information from the University of North Carolina School of Government database, her salary remains lower than board clerks in Wake and Orange counties.

"We lose good employees simply because we are underpaying them, so this is one of the reasons why we try to maintain competitive in that regard," Page said.

Likewise, Ruffin's salary was raised to $179,000 a year to reward his performance and to keep him at the level of his peers, Page said.

"We have not given the county manager a raise in three years, and that (10 percent raise) equates to about 3.3 percent per year," he said.

Hicks said he thinks Ruffin is doing a good job, but the raise is high during a sluggish economy.

"We don't believe a lot of people are getting 10 percent raises, no matter what sector they are working in," he said. "It seems to be not in line with the economic climate. It seems like it's not in line with what the rank and file are getting."

He also questioned why commissioners approved a 4.25 percent raise for Sheriff Worth Hill when he is retiring at the end of the year. Page said the increase was voted on before Hill announced his retirement.

Because county employees are getting raises, the commissioners themselves automatically receive a 4.25 percent raise.

"We did not vote intentionally for us to get a raise," Page said.

Most Durham city employees received 2 percent raises this year after three years of no increases. Employees of the Durham Police Department and Durham Fire Department got 3 percent salary increases.

Six department managers in city government got raises of 2.2 to 5.3 percent for various reasons, spokeswoman Beverly Thompson said. For example, one began overseeing the staff of another department that was eliminated during budget cuts.