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Local Governments Give Vacation Days In Lieu Of Raises

Local governments across the state have eliminated jobs, frozen pay and even forced employees to take unpaid time off as they struggle to balance their budgets. But Gaston County has taken a different approach with its employee compensation - and the small town of Stanley has followed suit. Public employees all over the state can probably relate to the plight of Gaston County workers. "They've gone three years without a salary increase," says Manager Jan Winters. The difference in Gaston County is that commissioners decided two years ago to give all 1,400 of their public workers five extra days of paid vacation. And this fiscal year - which just started in July - county employees get 7.5 extra days. Winters says the extra time-off is a "double-edged sword" for employees because most just come back to a bigger pile of work on their desk. "But we're saying to the employees, 'We wish we could financially reward you - here's something we can do,'" says Winters. Unfortunately, he adds that some workers - particularly police and emergency personnel - may not be able to take the extra time off at all. In that case, Winters says the days will at least count toward an employee's retirement. Offering additional paid vacation in lieu of pay raises is not a strategy many other local governments are racing to try, according to the North Carolina League of Municipalities. Pender County this week added three paid holidays to its calendar, but Gaston seems to have gone the furthest. It also inspired the town of Stanley, which is near Gastonia. Last month, commissioners approved and extra 7.5 days of paid vacation for the town's 24 workers. Stanley Town Commissioner Gail Brotherton was the only "no" vote. "It's just the thought that we're giving a week's vacation with pay and we're also having to pay somebody to come in and work part-time," says Brotherton. She'd rather just put that money into employee salaries. Tonight, Stanley commissioners will meet to discuss how they can switch back to giving town employees raises next year. Gaston County officials hope they can make the switch, too.