County Manager gets benefit not extended to other employees

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BAYBORO – With an annual salary recently set at $110,000, Tim Buck, manager of Pamlico County for the past 15 years, is county government’s highest paid employee. 

Monday night he received another benefit. 

Effective immediately, Buck is to receive a county-paid ‘match’ of three percent to his 401(k) retirement plan – an employer-sponsored ‘defined contribution’ pension account, defined in the Internal Revenue Code under ‘subsection 401(k)’– hence the funky nickname. 

Employee funding for these types of accounts (which have tax reducing benefits) comes as a specified deduction from an employee’s paycheck, and may (or may not) be ‘matched’ by the employer. 

In the midst of the 2007-2008 economic downturn, Pamlico County did away with paying any type of match to employees’ 401(k) accounts. 

However, during budget deliberations in May and June of this year, lip service was paid to reinstating some type of match, but most elected officials instead pushed for the highest possible Cost of Living Adjustments – a move that every county employee seemed to favor. 

Monday night, surprise! The 401(k) match was resurrected. But this time, it goes to just a single employee – Buck – from approximately 170 county employees currently on the payroll.

No one said life is fair. 

This potentially controversial decision came by way of a seven-page Employment Agreement (submitted by Buck) and unanimously approved Monday night by the seven-member Board of County Commissioners. 

Almost everyone familiar with the machinations of Pamlico County government concedes that Buck has been forced to burn the midnight oil for months on end. 

Department heads are retiring. Some high-ranking staffers have left for better salaries in nearby counties. The top spot in the Health Department became vacant after its director was forced out.  And, most recently, Buck has been required to assume the often vexing tasks of the Human Resources department, where that director recently moved to another state. 

All of these vacancies – not to mention a plethora of responsibilities in the Water Department – Buck has tackled, with very little complaining (if any).

Over the last several months, several county commissioners have broached the possibility of hiring an Assistant County Manager – hopefully luring a candidate who might also possess HR skills. 

“We were doing this to help out Tim,” said one commissioner, “but unfortunately he seems to have misinterpreted what we were trying to do.”

In other words, Buck may have been spooked by the prospect of having a Number Two person behind him – something unusual among similar low population, rural counties in eastern North Carolina 

Ironically, the Board of County Commissioners went ahead with this initiative Monday night, although most agree that a salary range set at $62,000 to $82,000 is unlikely to garner applicants with both HR and government management credentials.

“This is a right complex job description,” chuckled board chairman Doug Brinson.

The vote was 5 to 2 in favor, with the board’s only two Democrats – Pat Prescott and Carl Ollison opposed. Getting Republicans on the record as having tentatively approved

additional spending for a possible new position, clearly delighted Ollison. 

Describing himself as a “fiscally conservative Democrat,” Ollison said: “I think we’re heading in the wrong direction. We are growing government, despite (the Census showing) that we have had a population decrease. In my opinion, it it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”