1. What are retention incentives?
The retention incentives were payments made to employees who are eligible to retire to keep them from retiring. In order to keep certain employees from retiring, the County offered to advance the employee his or her early retirement incentive payment of one year in exchange for the employee holding off his or her retirement until a date specified.
2. What is an Employee Performance Bonus?
A Performance Benefit is a one-time monetary award issued by the County Manager to an employee for exceptional service to the County.
3. Did the County Manager and Board Chairman have authority to award retention incentives and employee performance bonuses to certain County employees?
Yes. Based on provisions of the Budget Ordinance and the Buncombe County Personnel Ordinance, the Board of Commissioners delegated this authority to the County Manager. After 7/1/16, the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners had the discretion to award the incentive/bonus to appointed employees including the County Manager, Clerk to the Board, and the County Attorney.
In the FY 2016-2017 Budget Ordinance, the Board of Commissioners amended the Early Retirement Plan delegating the authority to the County Manager or the Board Chairman to advance for retention purposes, the employee’s early retirement incentive. In addition, the Board of Commissioners amended the County’s Personnel Ordinance stating that the County Manager or Chairman for appointed positions have authority to award bonuses and incentive payments to employees subject to the availability of funds in departmental appropriations.
The Board also retroactively approved all benefit and incentive payments issued prior to 7/1/16.
On October 3, 2017, the BOC ended the Early Retirement Program effective 12-1-17.
4. Who is responsible for approving a performance bonus or retention incentive payment?
The County Manager was responsible for approving all salary increases, bonuses or retention incentives for all non-appointed employees.
Any salary increase, bonus or retention payment to an employee requires the County Manager to sign a Personnel Action Form (PAF) approving the payment amount. In addition, the Finance Director must sign the PAF certifying that that the expenditure has been pre-audited in accordance with the Local Government Fiscal Control Act (e.g., there are funds available to spend). There are a few exceptions where the County Manager delegated her authority to the Human Resources Director or Budget and Management Services Director. However, under no circumstance was a PAF for a salary increase, bonus or retention incentive ever approved without the knowledge of the County Manager.
When dealing with appointed employees (County Manager, Clerk to the Board, and County Attorney), the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners was responsible for approving any benefit or bonus to the County Manager or other appointed official.
On October 3, 2017, the BOC revised the Personnel Ordinance to limit the County Manager’s ability to award bonuses to $1000 per person and required that these be reported to the BOC in a public meeting within 60 days.
On October 3, 2017, the BOC revised the Personnel Ordinance to replace any discretionary approval by the Chair to the approval of the majority of the Board in a public vote.
5. Did the employees who received a retention incentive payment also get an early retirement payment?
No. In most PAFs where an employee received a retention incentive payment, the PAF contained specific language stating that the employee was not eligible to receive the one year salary benefit available in the Early Retirement Plan. In other words, you could get the retention incentive payment or the Early Retirement Payment, but you could not get both. In addition, the employee had to sign a waiver agreeing not to claim his or her early retirement incentive. As noted in the press, two people did not sign those waivers.
Employees who received the retention incentive payments with twenty-five years of County service were also eligible to receive retirement benefits as set forth in Article VII, Section 4, Subsection H of the County’s Personnel Ordinance. Furthermore, by serving more than fifteen years, an appointed non-elected official is eligible to collect the retirement benefits under in Article VII, Section 4, Subsection H of the County’s Personnel Ordinance regardless of whether the official received a retention incentive payment or not.
6. Did the retention incentive cost the tax payers any extra money in addition to the Early Retirement Incentive Plan?
No. Employees who received the received the retention incentive waived their right to collect under the Early Retirement Incentive. The County saved money because the employee took the retention incentive payout at his or her existing salary at the time of the payment as opposed to the employee’s salary on the date of the employee’s retirement. Based on current salaries, the County as of October 16, 2017 saved $95,607.00.
7. Did these retention incentive payments increase the employee’s retirement?
No. The Local Government Employees Retirement System determined that retention incentives do not constitute performance bonuses and could not count towards a member’s retirement. Hence, the member’s average highest four (4) year of salary for retirement calculation purposes was not increased based on the retention incentive payments.