Let’s get personnel: How Buncombe County employee salaries compare to state averages

Of Buncombe County’s $431 million budget for the 2018 fiscal year which began July 1, $137 million — nearly a third — is earmarked for salaries and benefits, up $6 million from the previous year.

County tax revenues fuel a wide range of services, from operating a system of libraries and maintaining a landfill to running the Sheriff’s Department. Behind the books, bins, badges and other amenities is a workforce of over 1,400, making Buncombe County one of the largest employers in the region.

County Human Resources Director Curt Euler oversees this crucial area of county operations. Euler weighs in here with statistics that shed light on county employees’ demographics and tenure, what they earn and how their salaries compare with similar counties across the state.

County jobs are good ones for this area: For the 1,442 people the county employed in fiscal year 2017, the average salary (excluding executives) was $51,965. When executives are factored in, the average was $53,425. Based on the county’s estimated population of just over a quarter of a million people in 2016, there was roughly one county employee for every 178 residents. Those workers served in the following categories: public safety, 603; human services, 584; general government, 169; culture and recreation, 63; and economic and physical development, 23.

Pay for what you get

Compared to state averages, Buncombe County’s employees had higher average salaries and longer retention for several key positions, according to information provided by the UNC School of Government for fiscal year 2016. To accurately compare local numbers with the statewide data, all salaries and periods of employment cited here are also from 2016.

The average annual county manager salary in the Tar Heel State was $132,039, while Buncombe County’s salary for the position was $241,791. That’s a big difference, but Euler warns that measuring Buncombe County against state averages is an apples-to-oranges comparison because of disparities in county populations. Salary figures for the state’s larger counties provide a more accurate context for Buncombe’s pay rates, he says. “The bigger the county you have, the more work there is to do; it’s a scale thing,” explains Euler. “A lot of times you’ll notice experienced, qualified people are at bigger counties.”

PAY TO STAY: The above chart shows the averages salaries and length of employment for various county positions across the state. Buncombe County is on the high end of pay and retention, but is also the seventh-largest county in North Carolina.

Euler says he uses the UNC School of Government data when looking at pay grades for various county positions. He also queries human resource directors in comparably sized counties to help determine the market rate.

According to the state’s Budget and Management Office, Buncombe is the seventh-largest county, based on population. Mecklenburg County, North Carolina’s largest county, paid its county manager $298,870. Tyrrell County, the state’s smallest county, paid its county manager $85,000. The lowest reported county manager salary was Perquimans County’s salary of $37,576.

Above are North Carolina's 10 largest counties along with information about how much each pays its County Manager.