Since the beginning of 2019, Jackson County has lost 42 employees. These employees are not leaving because they are disgruntled or because they do not like their supervisors. They leave because they can go work for other counties or cities for better pay.
“The problem is our salaries are not competitive with the surrounding counties and cities,” said County Personnel Director Michele Willis.
Those employees that have left Jackson County have gone to DeKalb County, Madison County, the cities of Scottsboro, Fort Payne and Hollywood and machine shops. The majority of employees that have left are from the sheriff’s office, the Jackson County Jail and the Public Works Department.
Willis said the turnover is costly and time consuming for the county. The county pays to get employees certified and trained.
“We’re absorbing the cost of training, and as soon as they get certified, they’re leaving to go somewhere else for better pay,” said Willis. “We don’t blame them for doing what’s best for them and their family, but I want the county to be able to afford for them to stay with us.”
Willis said she interviews an average of eight candidates for every open position. With 42 open positions this year, she has done 328 interviews in 2019. It is also costly because Willis, a commissioner and the department head have to take time from their day to conduct interviews. They also have to pay for advertising for the open position.
Each time the county hires someone new, they have to pay for a drug screen, set up a personnel file, set up everything in the payroll software, mail forms for all benefits, new hire orientation and provide on the job training. When they quit, the personnel department has to cancel all those benefits and reconcile invoices.
Willis said it is coming to the point where more people will have to be hired in the personnel department, which would bring more cost to the county.
Willis said it is getting harder to recruit new employees now. When she was hired in August 2012, the county would receive 200 applications for a clerk position. Now, Willis said she is lucky to get 15. For a Highway Maintenance Technician, she said she is luck to get seven applications. She said she used to get 100 to 150 applications for those jobs. She said the lower pay with the Tier 2 retirement makes it difficult to recruit.
With Tier 2 retirement, Willis said employees have to contribute more, work longer and will draw less. She said the county also does not pay for or contribute toward family coverage insurance.
Willis said that surrounding counties do and said they have had several candidates decline positions with the county due to the cost of family coverage insurance. The county has given one three percent raise in the last seven years, where surrounding counties and cities grant yearly raises to employees. Willis said this is another reason Jackson County is not competitive to surrounding counties and cities.
When she started, the county had 255 employees. As of October 2019, the county had 232 employees, including state employees. There are 219 employees on the county’s payroll. There are fewer employees doing the same amount of work.
The county has 137 employees still employed of the 255 employed in 2012. In the last seven years the county has retained only 54% of their workforce.
Willis said two former employees have told her they had a savings account before they started working for the county, and the account was depleted by the time they left.
“We value our employees,” said Willis. “They’re very good, hardworking, loyal and dedicated employees. I want to keep them.”
Commission Chairman Tim Guffey said until the county gets a long-term fix, it won’t be able to fix this problem completely. He said it will be a main point when meeting with the legislative delegation to come up with a solution to the county’s financial problem.
“Hopefully we can get something done,” said Guffey.