Mecklenburg County manager gets $50,000 pay hike

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio will make about $50,000 more a year after commissioners decided to boost her pay, raising her total compensation to $345,000 annually.

That includes a 4.5 percent merit-based increase of her base salary, a 20 percent increase in deferred compensation and a $37,000 market rate adjustment that brings her base salary to $286,000, from $238,260. Her expense allowance and benefits were unchanged from last year.

The salary increase goes into effect immediately. Along with her base salary, Diorio’s total annual compensation includes $6,687 in benefits, a $19,000 expense allowance and a $14,300 deferred compensation match.

Commissioners on Tuesday night unanimously approved the raise for Diorio, who took over as county manager after the board fired Harry Jones in late 2013. She started at the county as its finance director before she was promoted to an assistant county manager, then later named Mecklenburg’s first female manager.

Her base salary then was $228,000. Last year, commissioners gave her a 4.5 percent raise, the highest increase available for any county employee considered “exemplary.”

Tuesday afternoon, members of the commissioners’ performance review board met behind closed doors to discuss Diorio’s progress as part of her annual review and to decide if her accomplishments merited a pay raise. They took their recommendations to the full board in executive session before approving the raise at the end of Tuesday night’s public meeting.

“She’s a good steward of the money and keeps us on track,” said commissioner Pat Cotham, a Democrat, after the meeting. “She keeps track of everything.”

When commissioners hired Diorio, “we got her at a bargain,” said commissioner Matthew Ridenhour, a Republican. “I think she’s done an outstanding job...it’s time to compensate her for it.”

The performance review committee gathered data on what managers in similar counties in the state and region earn and compared Diorio’s salary with theirs. They also compared her pay with salaries for Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee, whose total compensation is $290,000 a year, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Ann Clark, whose base salary is $262,000 a year.

Former County Manager Harry Jones made $297,795 in total compensation. His base salary was $246,138.

Commissioners found that Diorio made “significantly” less than her counterparts, including those who work in counties that could recruit Diorio and offer her more money.

Said Cotham: “We want to keep her.”

Commissioner pay still in limbo

Commissioners still have not reached a decision about whether to raise their own pay. Commissioner George Dunlap, a Democrat, broached the topic of board raises last month when he presented data showing that while Mecklenburg commissioners are paid more than their North Carolina counterparts, their salaries fall short of what commissioners make in counties in Virginia and Georgia with similar populations.

On Tuesday, the board’s performance review committee, which Dunlap chairs, decided to widen the scope of research into salary boosts and look at how members of the county’s appointed boards are compensated hourly compared to commissioners’ hourly rates. Some of those board members earn $125 a meeting, Dunlap said.

The committee hasn’t presented recommendations to the full board and won’t do so until more information is gathered. Dunlap said it’s possible the board won’t make a final decision until next July, when any pay changes would go into effect.

Dunlap rebuffed assertions that commissioners, who now make an average $25,932 annually, want to double their pay: “We never said that’s where we’re going to land,” he said.

McFadden: 704-358-6045; Twitter: @JmcfaddenObsGov

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