A year ago, with county employees facing no raises, Mecklenburg commissioners set aside roughly $1million to boost the pay of workers earning less than the market rate.
Those raises - which went to about 1,200 of the county's 4,700 workers - came as officials cut more than $75 million from county services, schools and other areas.
Commissioners said it would be unfair to interrupt a years-long effort to bring the pay of county workers close to market rate. The county had already spent millions to raise pay, but a study found 35percent of county employees still earned less than others in comparable jobs in Charlotte and other areas.
This year, with more budget cuts looming, any raises seem highly unlikely for the year that begins in July. It would be the second straight year without merit pay bumps for county workers.
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County Manager Harry Jones said recently that he won't propose raises in the budget plan he unveils Tuesday. And commissioners Chairman Jennifer Roberts said that while the board might talk about raises, finding money to pay for them will be difficult.
County officials have said that more than 500 employees could lose their jobs under the 2010-11 budget, as the county tries to cut $85million to offset falling revenue and higher expenses in some areas.
"We know county workers are working very hard and they probably deserve raises," Roberts said. "But we just don't have the money."
She said she hopes the board can find other ways to help show employees they value their work.
Meanwhile, the city of Charlotte - which isn't facing cuts nearly as deep as the county - had considered putting $6.1million for raises in its proposed budget. But last week, a majority of City Council members signaled they'll consider not giving raises in the new year.
The Observer is examining the pay of county workers as part of an annual series on public payrolls. State law makes public the salaries of county employees, as well as workers at other tax-supported institutions.
The county had 4,701 employees on its payroll as of mid-April, a 5.2 percent decrease from last year's list. Many jobs were eliminated because of budget cuts. The departments with the biggest changes are the Sheriff's Office (66 fewer workers), Land Use & Environmental Services Agency (59), and Area Mental Health (56).
The number of employees has fallen even more in recent weeks as layoffs continued at the library and in code enforcement.
The Observer pay study also found that the number of six-figure salaries has declined slightly, from 81 to 77, as some employees left the county in the past year, including former internal auditor Cornita Spears and former General Manager Janice Allen Jackson. Spears' successor earns less, and Jackson wasn't replaced.
Among the other recent departures was former Department of Social Services head Jake Jacobsen, who was reassigned in late 2007 to an executive-in-residence post at UNC Charlotte. The county continued to pay his salary, which was $167,936 in 2009, until he retired this year.
Contacted by the Observer this week, Jacobsen confirmed that he retired from the county Feb. 1, but he declined to talk further about his work while at the university.
A summary from 2009 listed 15 activities Jacobsen had been involved in, including consulting with community groups, planning symposiums and workshops, and helping expand a community database with information from local and state government and nonprofit agencies.
But he said last year that it was unlikely he'd be able to finish work on his research into children of former welfare recipients.