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City's switch to new payroll system causes angst among employees

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Arlene Cunningham

Within weeks of the implementation of a new payroll system, Hendersonville employees expressed concern Tuesday that their paychecks and retirement accounts will be smaller than expected.

Board members appropriated money in the city's budget two years ago to purchase software for an automated, updated payroll system, but left the details of what type of system would be chosen up to city staff and then-Mayor Scott Foster.

The city is just weeks away from switching to a bi-weekly payroll system instead of one that is twice monthly.

Both HFD Fire Marshall Paul Varble, who represents the city's fire fighters association, and HPD Detective Neal Harris, president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police, told Board of Mayor and Aldermen members Tuesday that employees are nervous and uninformed about the change.

"There are lots of concerns about moving to this new pay plan," said Varble. "Our paychecks are going to change. They are going to be less."

Varble added there are concerns that employees' W2 forms will show less money earned which could affect those who plan to retire through the state's retirement system within the next few years.

He asked aldermen to help slow down the implementation of the process until employees could have their questions answered.

Harris agreed.

"This calendar year our gross pay will be less," he said. "We'll go seven months until we see a third check at the end of March.

"We have some officers who live paycheck to paycheck who will see a little less on each paycheck," added Harris. "We understand we had notice of this. We knew it was coming, but we still have concerns."

Several aldermen, including Ward 4 Alderman Steve Brown said they had received calls, emails and texts from employees concerned about how the new system would affect them. Brown asked at the beginning of the meeting that the issue be added to that night's agenda for discussion.

Alderman Darrell Woodcock asked why city leaders are just now hearing about the issue right before the system is being implemented.

"It's always been out there that there had to be that change," said Assistant Finance Director Dana Swinea, adding that department heads were made aware of the issue a year ago. Employees began asking questions, however, when a sample paycheck was sent out in July.

Swinea said that employees will "actually be ahead by Jan. 5. On Jan. 5 they will have more money in hand than under the previous plan."

Ward 2 Alderman Scott Sprouse said that it didn't look as if anyone would be getting paid less, but he did want to know how someone who chose to retire within the next 36 months or so would be affected.

Sprouse suggested the issue be discussed by the city's Finance Committee.

"People are upset about it," said Ward 3 Alderman Arlene Cunningham who chairs that committee. "I think the communication is lacking. And I think the timing may be off."

Cunningham noted that aldermen voted to appropriate the money, but didn't know the details of the new program, including that it would be changing to a bi-weekly system.

She made a motion to refer the issue to the Finance Committee who will discuss it during a special-called meeting on Aug. 16 at 5:30 p.m.

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