The heads of the state's two local government associations each make more than $200,000 annually, according to records from the state treasurer's office and interviews with both men.
Ellis Hankins, executive director of the N.C. League of Municipalities, is paid $207,874, while David Thompson, executive director of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, earns $204,081.
Both declined to disclose their salaries and other operational expenses in an article in Sunday's News & Observer that reported both associations are allowed to participate in a public pension plan despite their stance that they are not public agencies. Local governments, financed by taxpayers, can be forced to make additional payments to the pension system if investment gains don’t cover promised benefits.
Some say the associations should have to open their books if they want to belong to a pension plan that is run by the state treasurer's office and requires the publicly funded associations to match employee contributions.
On Monday, the treasurer's office released at The N&O's request the most recent monthly salaries for Hankins and Thompson. The treasurer's office collects that information to help accurately track pension contributions.
Once aware that The N&O had that information, both men confirmed their annual salaries.
Thompson is a former manager for Hertford, Stanly, Henderson and Durham counties who became the county association's second leader in 2005. He said the association sets his salary based on what his counterparts make in other large states such as Texas, Florida and California, and on the compensation paid to county managers in North Carolina.
Hankins served as the league's general counsel from 1982 to 1994 and then returned as executive director in 1997. He said his salary is set by the league's board of directors each year after "an extensive performance appraisal discussion."
Their pay is slightly lower than the leaders of Wake County's two biggest municipalities. Wake County Manager David Cooke and Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen each make roughly $220,000 a year.
The league has more than 90 employees and the county association has 36. Both organizations lobby state lawmakers, run self-insurance pools for their member municipalities and provide training for municipal officials. Much of the associations' funding comes from taxpayers through the dues that municipalities or counties pay.
To belong to the state pension system, the associations and their employees each have to kick in roughly six percent of the employees' salaries.
Pensions are set in part by an employee's four highest consecutive years of pay. If Hankins and Thompson retired with full pensions based on their current salaries, Hankins would receive an annual pension of $115,370, while Thompson's pension would be $113,265.