Inside County Government

How Mecklenburg commissioners decided county manager’s pay raise

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio
Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

When Dena Diorio became Mecklenburg County’s manager in 2013, she was not among the highest-paid public officials in the county: Her $240,000 total compensation was about $50,000 less than what her counterpart in the city of Charlotte took home each year.

Not anymore.

Mecklenburg County commissioners gave Diorio a $50,000 pay boost July 7 after reviewing a pay study that examined salaries for Charlotte-area executives and other North Carolina county managers. She received a 4.5 merit-based pay raise and $37,000 market rate adjustment, bringing her base salary from $238,260 to $286,000.

In all, her total compensation went up to $345,000, up from $291,735 – cementing her place near the top in the pantheon of Charlotte public officials earning six-figure salaries.

Already, she was the highest-paid county manager in North Carolina thanks to a 2014 pay raise that put her ahead of peers in Wake, Buncombe, Durham and Forsyth counties, according to a UNC School of Government salary database.

Commissioners in the past have bestowed county managers with significant performance bonuses – former manager Harry Jones received a $38,400 bonus in 2009, a time when the county froze employee pay and issued budget cuts across departments. But officials say this may be the first time a county manager has received such a significant bump in base salary.

Whether that’s reasonable is a “subjective question,” said Kimberly Nelson, a UNC Chapel Hill professor who studies public administration.

“The rate of pay for a county or city manager is totally to the discretion of the board,” she said. “Mecklenburg is the largest county in North Carolina. I don’t think they’re comparable in the state, other than Wake County.”

It’s no secret why commissioners gave Diorio the raise. In a report discussing the pay adjustment, commissioners said they want to offer competitive pay to keep her here and create “financial incentives to achieve extraordinary results.”

The study they used looked at compensation of managers in counties with similar populations across the U.S., including Broward County, Fla., Fairfax County, Va., and Maricopa County, Ariz. It gauged pay for public officials in Charlotte and weighed salaries for heads at several public/private agencies and nonprofits, including the Charlotte Regional Partnership and Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

The board is gathering similar information in a study to help them decide if they should raise their own pay.

Pay study breakdown

Here are some of the 2014 salaries commissioners reviewed before approving Diorio’s pay raise. Salaries come from data collected by the county and might have changed since the information was initially gathered.

Regional compensation:

Jurisdiction

Base Salary

Total Compensation

Wake - county manager

$228,800

$259,000

Raleigh - city manager

$223,600

$261,068

Durham - city manager

$206,198

$224,727

Durham - county manager

$198,000

$221,104

Forsyth - county manager

$190,632

$201,244

Guilford - county manager

$185,557

$197,834

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