KURE BEACH, NC (WECT) - It's a pretty amazing job perk -- getting your master's degree, and having your employer pay your tuition expenses. But there are different schools of thought on whether public employees receiving this benefit is a good deal for taxpayers, many of whom are still paying off their own student loans.
Kure Beach town leaders will meet Tuesday night to vote on a proposal to pay for an assistant fire chief to get his Master of Business Administration degree. The Kure Beach Fire Department has recently transitioned from an all-volunteer department to a hybrid department with nine paid firefighters.
The fire chief has asked the town to pay $8,304 over the next three years to help one of his officers complete his MBA. While that isn't going to help him fight fires, fire officials and some town council members think it could help the officer manage the growing fire department.
Budgeting, human resource management, marketing the department to potential volunteer firefighters, and determining if firefighting equipment purchases were likely to provide a good return on investment were a few specifically mentioned benefits of the employee obtaining this master's degree.
"We're a really small town. So everybody does a little of everything. His job will basically remain unchanged. Hopefully, he'll be better at it," Town Councilman Jim Dugan said of why he thinks the town should pay for this continuing education expense.
To protect taxpayer's investment, Dugan said employees are required to stay on for two years after the town pays their educational expenses. If they leave any sooner, they must reimburse the town for their tuition.
Town employees are automatically eligible for up to $1,200, but may petition town council for higher reimbursement amounts if needed. Dugan said the town also requires that the educational opportunities the employee is pursuing be relevant to their job and of benefit to the town.
"Somebody who wanted a history course or guitar lessons or something like that, that's great that they would have it and would increase their education, but the benefit back to the taxpayers wouldn't be as great," Dugan explained of why there are limits on the coursework that can be pursued under this program.
Many other cities and towns in our viewing area have similar educational stipends for employees. The amount available, and the requirements for using the money varies.
Kure Beach, Carolina Beach, and Wrightsville Beach require that the degree you are seeking have a specific benefit to your job or the town. But we're told other places, like the City of Wilmington, do not limit what kind of degree their employees can pursue using money set aside for employee education.