Black Mountain Town Council votes to implement pay study immediately

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
Two Black Mountain police officers were given a life saving award.

Black Mountain’s Jan. 9 Town Council meeting began with Mayor Mike Sobol proclaiming Jan. 16, 2023, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Following this proclamation, Police Chief Steve Parker awarded Sgt. Monte Hensley and Officer Alexander Cruz with a life saving award for their part in assisting and resuscitating a woman who had overdosed.

Jamey Matthews, public works director, accepted the Wellhead Protection Award from Debbie Maner of North Carolina Rural Water on behalf of the town. The award is given to communities who received approval for their wellhead or source water protection plans, which the town did in April of last year.

Jamey Matthews, public works director, accepted the Wellhead Protection Award from Debbie Maner of North Carolina Rural Water on behalf of the town.

Janice Gouldthorpe, executive director of the North Carolina Glass Center, gave a presentation to the council on what the glass center is and what the town can expect once the glass center expands to Black Mountain. Renovations are currently being made, and the center is expected to open in 2024 in Black Mountain.

In the consent agenda, the council voted to approve looking for a new bank for the town’s use, a resolution supporting a trail and sidewalk study grant by the Friends of Fonta Flora and a grant project for disaster relief coming from Tropical Storm Fred.

In unfinished business, the council voted to approve a new lease for the Green Tee Grille at the golf course. This item was moved from the December meeting agenda after council members asked for more financial information.

Currently, the tenant pays $400 a month in rent and the town is paying an annual average of $8,303 in electricity for the restaurant. Town Attorney Ron Sneed said the lease was “never designed to be efficient” but instead meant to keep a restaurant open for golfers at the course.

Town Council voted unanimously to renew the lease with an option to do the same next year.

Council also voted unanimously to approve the draft request for proposals for town attorney services.

A large portion of Monday night’s meeting was dedicated to a presentation of the salary study the town commissioned last year. Piedmont Triad Regional Council Management Analyst David Hill conducted the study and presented council with his findings.

Hill said he compared Black Mountain with 16 other area municipalities to determine where the town was in terms of pay.

He said he considers a “mature workforce” to be anywhere from eight to 10 years on the job. In Black Mountain, the average town employee has been with the town for 6.73 years.

Hill said he conducted the pay study “without regard to individual employees,” but rather the position as a whole.

In some positions, Black Mountain fell behind in pay. In others, the town was ahead. For example, in Asheville, a starting firefighter makes, on average, $49,783. In Black Mountain, the starting average is $44,719. Meanwhile, a starting police officer makes $44,107 on average in Asheville and $44,756 in Black Mountain.

Hill said these positions cannot always be compared directly as the responsibilities can vary depending on the municipality. He said at the beginning of his study he asked each town employee to fill out a 12-page questionnaire detailing what job responsibilities they have.

“The larger the local government, the more specialized employees are,” Hill said. “The smaller the local government, the more hats everybody wears.”

For his recommendations, Hill said he would take the town’s current pay plan and “smooth it out.” Part of this includes the differential from one grade to the next becoming 5%.

Council member Pam King asked Hill if it is “inevitable” for the town to be back in the same position in a few years. Hill said there needs to be a “human element” in salary administration to make sure the town does not continue to fall behind and he recommends conducting a salary study more frequently than the town has in the past.

In all, to adhere to Hill’s recommendations and to be competitive with surround municipalities, the town would need to allot an extra $360,593 each year. Council member Alice Berry called this an “investment.”

King said she was invested in the issue and wanted to do something about it sooner rather than later.

“I’m personally really committed to doing right by our employees,” King said. “It’s also a moral issue, in my opinion, that we need to be treating our employees fairly, that they need to be earning a fair wage.”

Piedmont Triad Regional Council Management Analyst David Hill presented the pay study to the Black Mountain Town Council Jan. 9.

Town manager Josh Harrold said the town would need around $150,000 to implement the study immediately for the rest of the fiscal year. Town Council voted unanimously to do so.

In new business, King was voted to be the voting delegate for the North Carolina League of Municipalities, an organization that allows for smaller and larger municipalities to come together for change in state government.

The council moved 5-0 to continue allowing Skyrunner to use the equipment by the Fire Department to provide broadband internet.

Council asked Harrold to bring back a new policy regarding council members as voting members on advisory boards.

The final item on the agenda involved Harrold explaining the budget calendar and process review. He said he hopes to move these processes along faster than in the past.