Employee Morale Low Following Word Of Potential Reduction Of Personnel, Benefits

Employees of the Town of Carolina Beach have expressed concerns to management and the Human Resources Department regarding recent comments at an event at the American Legion held by Mayor Joe Benson where he indicated the potential for cutting personnel and benefits in order to reduce budgetary spending. The Council recently indicated a desire for a third-party to conduct an efficiency study, but no cuts have been presented to Council. Employees of the Town of Carolina Beach have expressed concerns to management and the Human Resources Department regarding recent comments at an event at the American Legion held by Mayor Joe Benson where he indicated the potential for cutting personnel and benefits in order to reduce budgetary spending. The Council recently indicated a desire for a third-party to conduct an efficiency study, but no cuts have been presented to Council.

Employee Morale Low Following Word Of Potential Reduction Of Personnel, Benefits Featured

By / Local News / الأربعاء, 11 تموز/يوليو 2018 01:31

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - Carolina Beach Mayor Joe Benson hosted a Town Hall style meeting at the American Legion in Carolina Beach on June 20th and was joined by Councilman Steve Shuttleworth. The purpose of the event was to answer  citizens questions about local government.

During the event there was discussion of the recent budget process and the need to raise fees to reduce a budget gap for the 2018-2019 fiscal year of over two million dollars. The Council requested additional budget reductions and increased various fees to reduce that gap to $368,000 dollars to be covered by utilizing reserve funds. That avoided a property tax increase. But the Council did discuss the cost of personnel and benefits and how to find efficiencies in future budget years.

During the June 20th, meeting at the Legion, Mayor Joe Benson explained, "46 or 47% of the budget goes to personnel and benefits. That's the escalating cost that if you look across the country in the macro, communities and states are dealing with it. It's unsustainable. So very soon there's going to be a meeting with the Town Manager to come up with a plan, just so you know, to reduce personnel and benefits by somewhere in the neighborhood of 10%. We haven't come to a resolution on that. You are just hearing it from me because that has to happen."

Councilman Shuttleworth also attended the event. He said, "We asked management to come back, because when I look at the budget and I see that we have almost 50% going towards personnel, my question was can you show me some other municipalities per capita, the same size communities that have that or can you show me a percentage. Go to other communities. I don't care if they are 200,000 people, 50,000 people or two million people, do they have the same percentage. 50% of their budget being employees because that is what becomes burdensome and we haven't had that response come back from the manager. We are waiting to hear that. We believe that we need to reduce staff."

He added that, "We are constantly hearing from the developers, the builders, it's taking forever to get a permit. We're hearing from business start-ups that it's pathetic, the process to get a new businesses started. It takes forever. It's painful. We hear from staff that they've got just a ton of stuff going on. We've got 360 site investigations going on for violations whether it's junk vehicles, yards or health and safety on buildings."

Shuttleworth explained, "Staff says we are providing those services. We got the building community saying, and the residents saying, you need to enforce building codes, you need to enforce yard mowing, junk vehicles, broken windows, boarded up houses. That's been something we've been trying to get a hand on."
He said, "I will tell you that one of the council people has asked about management to have an efficiency study done. An outside source come in and do an efficiency study."

Following that meeting, Town employees learned of the statement from Benson regarding cutting personnel and benefits.

An employee appreciation luncheon is planned for Wednesday July 11th, at noon at Town Hall.

Employees began to express a desire to present questions about any potential personnel cuts to the Mayor and any Council members attending the luncheon.

On July 5th, Town Manager Michael Cramer sent an email to Mayor and Council explaining, "Many employees have shared that they were quite hurt by the recent comments Council has publically made regarding staff and there is much concern amongst staff about the potential for staff cuts.  Many of the staff are not bold enough to ask the questions face to face with council. Over the past two weeks Holly has received staff questions placed under her door, in her HR mailbox, emailed to HR, or asked directly to her regarding this topic.  Holly compiled a list of these questions and ask what she should do with them.  It is obvious that staff is interested in hearing more from council on this subject. Next week the Mayor has invited staff to join him in an appreciation lunch at town hall.  HR has prepare the attached list of questions that employees would like to have the Mayor address.  I wanted council to be aware of the concerns of staff, so if questions came up you might be prepared to answer them.  Please let me know if you have any questions."

Mayor Joe Benson responded to Cramer stating, "Thanks for the note. In a private conversation with Gil, I provided a little more context as to the comments. I publicly stated that some cuts to personnel and benefits would be needed. After further review, I believe it’s the town manager’s job to determine the cuts. All that stated, at least 4 of us expect you to cut the budget. We cannot continue to work the budget process beginning with a $2M deficit presenting us with options like snagging from savings (which is too low already), raising taxes (let’s discuss this earlier in the process), and/or raising rates and fees. Point being - we need to better live within our means. Maybe a more accurate expectation on end of FY expenditures and projected revenues."

Benson explained, "We’ve discussed this before and I’m certain you’ve got a plan to address our concerns. At any rate, I’m eager to answer any/all questions the staff will have."

On July 9th, Cramer explained to Council members, "I am sure that you know that communicating with staff on these type of issues is very sensitive and emotional for all.  The emotions show in the way the questions were asked and the generalized (inaccurate) statements.  The emotions are also present in your reaction to the questions.  I only mention that as a means to state that these issues aren’t always fact or rationally based discussions on either side. Also, please keep in mind Holly received many more comments and questions that were summarized in these questions.  These are not actual questions and comments."

Council member Leann Pierce responded to Cramer explaining, "I do not believe it [is] the Mayor’s  or Joe Dan’s responsibility to answer questions about over staffing. I believe that is your responsibility.  I am however glad to see you have found your sensitive side. I only wish you would’ve had that in your response to me over the weekend."

Cramer explained to Pierce, "I would normally agree with that assessment of my duties, however, since the council and the manager have not set any expectations on evaluating the possibility that we have any over staffing it is impossible for me to manage the staff’s reaction to the comments.  Honestly, I am not requesting that the Mayor or [Councilman] JoDan respond to the questions at all.  I only provided the information to council so you would be aware of the concern that staff have. Nothing more.  As for our other conversations over the weekend, please let me know if you would like to discuss those situations in detail.  It would be helpful to me to better understand what I did that was insensitive."

Staff Questions for the Mayor

A list of questions submitted by employees anonymously was assembled by the Human Resources Department.

The following are some of those questions:

1. We recently heard that Town Council wants to base the budget on “programs”. What does this mean exactly? How would you go about defining a program knowing that we all do multiple things and are involved in multiple programs? Will criteria be developed to determine what programs should be ended or eliminated.  Will citizens have a voice in this?

2. Town Council members have stated publically that they want to cut 10% of Town employees.  Since that time the morale of the staff has plummeted.  Many employees were shaken by this statement. Where did this number even come from?  What was it based upon? The Council had just days prior approved a budget that rewarded employees with merit increases and an increase in the match on 401k contributions. If the Town has financial stress and needs to save money, would it not make more sense to begin with budget season talks on ways to cut spending without cutting staff?  What is Council’s plan now to deal with an employee body that is concerned about job security? Any suggestions on motivating a staff that doesn’t know if they have a job in the near future?

3. Does Council acknowledge that lay-off’s or turnover of staff results in programs and projects grinding to a halt or taking significantly longer to accomplish.

4. Does everything have to be outsourced?  What is an acceptable threshold to outsource something?  Are a few dollars saved worth the backlash staff gets from citizens? It seems that Council’s always asking staff to look into the cost of outsourcing.  Citizens expect results. Citizens expect to see staff out working.  Citizens don’t want to hear that a contractor doesn’t work on Holiday weeks, when half their street is torn up. 

5. Morale is at an all-time low.  Council went from praising staff in January to making disparaging remarks at recent Council meetings held during the budget season.  What did staff do wrong in such a short period of time?

6. Does Council understand that by not offering employees any type of COLA increase, the salary ranges of staff do not move upwards?  By failing to move the salary ranges upwards over the past 3 budget years, approximately 7 employees have hit the maximum for their salary range and can no longer receive base pay increases.  These employees, per longstanding personnel policy, receive a lump sum payment of their entire merit increase.  These affected employees are not able to increase their annual earnings, which adversely effects their long-term pension benefit calculation.  (Pension is based on 4 highest year’s earnings).  All of Council is either retired or self-employed.  Self-employed business owners price their product to include a profit margin.  If costs go up, the business owners increase their price to continue to earn a profit.  Hourly paid workers don’t get to increase their hourly rate if costs go up.  Staff feels there is a disconnect between the financial lives that Council live and the financial lives that staff live. 

7. We have heard the term Efficiency Study mentioned by Council. What is Council definition of an Efficiency Study?  What exactly is Council hoping to find out by performing this study? 

8. Does Council acknowledge that Carolina Beach is not a sleepy beach community any longer? There is no such thing as an ‘off-season’ in the work that we do.  Events and tourists are on the island year round. One look at the Events Calendar proves this.   Other than the Lifeguards and a couple of temporary workers removing trash off the beach strand, everyone else has a year-round, full-time job with real work to accomplish.  During winter month’s departments send staff to schooling for required continuing education and training.  We have no ‘down time’ any more.

9. Staff has heard from MANY citizens that they wish Council would have just upped their taxes by a penny and balanced the budget that way.  Citizens like all the programs and progress they see on the island and citizens have expressed concern to staff that by continuing to place everything on the backs of the tourists, they may be backlash. Does Council feel they did enough to reach out to citizens and ask how the citizens would like to see the budget balanced? 

10. The Town Manager has worked extremely hard multi-tasking on the following:
A. Overseeing the management of his direct reports
B. Acting as project manager for various multi-million dollar projects all over the town
C. Developing complex management plans for Freeman Park, Parking, MOTSU
D. Enhance customer service and technology within the town and community
E. Skillfully develop and serve as budget officer
F. Always makes himself available to town staff on a daily basis
G. Works with citizens, many of them irate, on a daily basis
H. Works with Town Council on a daily basis
In the opinion of this question writer, he has done these things exceptionally well.  He asks for clarity at public meetings and moves forward upon receiving direction of Town Council.  He produces the end product Town Council has appeared to request.
Despite all these efforts, the Manager is continuously chastised in public forums.  This seems unfair and inappropriate.  Couldn’t Town Council find more ways to be complementary of the Town Manager and express that in public forums? Praise not punishment.

11. Carolina Beach had a history of departments that worked in silos.  Along with not working well together, productivity was low.  Since Mr. Cramer has been Town Manager, and the Senior Management of the town changed, this has all changed.  The Town reorganized ineffective departments and began working together as one team.  Projects have been occurring at record paces in comparison to other communities.  Despite this, Town Council seems to have no appreciation for what staff does, or has accomplished.  Why should we continue to work hard for you?  Do you even know what we do?

Click here to view the video of the event held at the Legion.

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