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Council Special Session Recap – Pay Study

 

by Councilman Bill Summers

City of ClarksvilleClarksville, TN – The city council met in a special session December 21st, Tuesday evening. Several issues were on the agenda. I should have gotten a copy of the agenda out to readers, but I had been working to cancel the special session for a number of reasons related to the pay study.

Rezoning Pond Apple/Rudolph Town

As readers and residents know, the council had denied the rezoning of the two residential lots at the corner of Pond Apple and Memorial Drive Extension two prior times. Last month the council changed course and approved the rezoning. I had requested that mayor not place the rezoning on this special session consent agenda, but this was denied.

As the topic came up at the council session, Councilman Wallace asked that this rezoning and two others on the agenda be delayed until next month.  I supported this option, but the council voted against a delay.

Then I pulled the rezoning requested in order to force another vote.  I mentioned several of the items of concern that been placed before the council before.  However, this was to no avail.  The rezoning was again approved by a 5-yes & 4 no vote.  Council members Burkhart and Wallace abstained and Grubbs was sick and not able to attend.

The only course of action left for area homeowners is to conduct a civil suit based on the property restrictions that state the lots were to remain residential.  There is nothing more that can be done at the city level.

Pay Study

The only other topic was the city pay study.  There were a number of issues not resolved that I expressed specifically at the Special Call Finance meeting that was held at 1:00pm this afternoon on the pay study.  The Finance committee decided to make no recommendation on the ordinance that would be changed due to recommendations in the pay study.

The council met at 4:00pm in a work session in an open conference call to the consultants who did the study.  The consultants had tried for two days to get here, but had been snowed in and could not catch a flight due to the weather.  Council members asked some questions during the conference.  Let me first be clear that the pay study is well done and I agree with the data and results presented.  The study looked at pay, longevity, and other benefits to include days off, insurance, etc.

Here are some general findings from the study:

  1. The average pay of non-emergency city workers, in spite of not receiving a pay raise for two years, was only 4% below the market median.
  2. Firefighters and police will be separated for future pay purposes.  This is logical as each job is very different form the other.  This is also how most cities handle pay for these departments.
  3. Firefighter pay is 4% above the above the market median.
  4. Police pay is 11% below the market median.
  5. While the percentages represent overall pay, there are many positions that are far underpaid and many that are overpaid.
  6. The council will NOT cut anyone’s pay that the study shows above the suggested pay level.
  7. The city is paying anywhere between 2-times to 5-times the longevity pay of comparable cities (depending on years of service).  The study states that the city needs to address this in conjunction with any pay increases implemented.
  8. The city pays more into benefits as a percentage of base salary, from 13% to 17% above what other cities offer.
  9. The city provides 5 more vacation days for workers with 20 or more years than other cities provide on average.
  10. Step raises would be eliminated.
  11. Not everyone is underpaid.

The pay study suggests three options for updating pay. Remember, the city had set aside $1.34 million to help fund the findings of the pay study. As I recall from the briefings, about 25% of the city workers are not making the pay study established minimum pay structure. The cost to raise these employees to that minimum will cost about $929,000.

Option 1 was to meet the pay study minimums, which would eat most of the money set aside for pay increases.

Option 2 was to use that money and percentage wise give everyone a percentage raise and aim for the salary study midpoints.  I believe they said that 60% of the workers would get some increase.  However, some of those not making the new suggested minimum still would not reach it.  In addition, using Option 2 would establish the midpoint as a ceiling for pay.  Option 2 would cost $2.27 million to implement.

Option 3 would establish pay across a spectrum (minimum, midpoint, maximum) that represents what Clarksville city workers’ peers make in other cities.   Pay would be distributed as mentioned in Option 2 with the same shortage for those not making minimum.  The cost would be $2.73 million to implement.

Let me stop here to state that we have several pay options to consider, along with decisions on how longevity, vacation days and the need to address some kind of retired medical benefits for those hired during 2006 and later.  The council back in 2006 took the easy way out to cut costs and stopped such benefits for those hired after that date.  Such action provided a quick fix to an immediate problem, but created a ticking bomb for later hires and employee recruitment. We now have to fix that.

No options had been presented to address these other issues (I brought this up to the council members and the mayor at the Finance meeting) until the mayor presented some tonight.  He was not prepared to discuss them at the Finance meeting.  Well, that opened the floodgates as to ideas, options, what ifs, etc at the council session.  It was the “goat-rope” I expected and had hoped to avoid.

After a number of discussions, Councilman Redd asked that we postpone any decision until next month’s regular session in order to formulate some ideas to vote on.  I supported this and the vote was taken.  The postponement was defeated in a 5-yes & 6-no vote.

I offered that we take each item (pay options, longevity, vacation, etc) one at a time instead of trying to mix all of it in one package.  This seemed agreeable to council members, but we went off in some other tangent and started circling again.

Well we continued to go round and round until Councilwoman C. Johnson requested a reconsideration of the postponement.  Since she had voted against the postponement originally and was on the winning side, according to Robert’s Rules of Order, she could request another vote.  We voted again and with her switch in vote the postponement won in a 6-yes & 5-no vote.  I voted to again postpone.  We’ll take this up again next month.

I have spent considerable time  reviewing the pay study package.  Here is where I stand:

  1. I support pay Option 3.  Our goal in the study is to pay city workers in the range of what their peers make in other cities.  Note that the suggested pay rates have been “normalized” to reflect cost-of-living differences.  Option 2 would establish a pay ceiling around the pay midpoints and that shortcuts workers with long-term experience or those with highly educated or trained job skills.
  2. While I support Option 3, I further want all workers not making the minimum recommended in the study to get brought up to that minimum first.  What that means is, of the $1.34 million available, almost a million will be used to do this, leaving very little to start placing other workers in their proper pay station.
  3. It will take at least two, if not three, years to get pay where it belongs.  Thus, if it takes extra time, so be it.
  4. If I/we on the council plan to make worker pay match their peers, then we NEED to rework the longevity payments.  It is my opinion that the wacky longevity methods currently used by the city were built to try and overcome poor pay.  If we are working toward proper pay, then overpayment of longevity needs to stop.  It makes no sense to pay two to five times the amount of what other cities pay if we have base pay comparable. Other cities generally pay a flat rate for each year worked.

It appears that amount is around $50.00.  What I propose is that the amount of longevity paid to workers this month would be rolled over to base pay and the new longevity rate be started for next year.  Thus, they do not lose any money next year in relation to what they were paid this year.  In addition, by doing this, it closes the gap in those workers who were underpaid to start with.

The mayor had proposed to fix the rate at $50.00 for those that were not yet getting longevity pay (you have to have 5 years service).  However, the mayor wanted to grandfather anyone currently getting longevity pay under the old system.  I am TOTALLY against keeping a system that is broke for several reasons.  1) We would have to manage two different longevity systems which is not a streamlining of management or procedures. 2) If we are fixing employee pay to match their peers in other cities, then it is NOT financially prudent to have the taxpayer to foot the bill to pay for an overly generous longevity rate.  3) Just as the council in 2006 caused a problem with older workers getting a benefit that the new ones didn’t, we would be creating the exact same issue with longevity.

5) The mayor wanted to grandfather those who get the extra five vacation days (over 20 years service) as compared to other cities.  I disagree.  If we want the pay corrected, then we need to fix vacation too.  We would also create the two-tiered groups on benefits again.

6) As for insurance, we keep it as it is and add some form of retired insurance to cover those hired since 2006, so we can compete with other cities.

Firefighters

On a couple of other points, some members of the fire department had mentioned their concern over being separated from the police in pay.  This separation will happen as these jobs are very different.  I am not sure why the city had combined these two different job skill functions in previous studies.  Thus, in this study firefighters were not compared to police for pay purposes, but against other city fire departments.  This is a logical process.  The pay study has not hurt firefighters by the breakout.

Base pay for starting firefighters will actually go up with the minimum going up to $32,274 to start.  This is an increase of $1409.

Since many firefighters have many years with the department, Option 3 would benefit them more as that scale rewards them for their years of service.  Many would see an eventual pay increase of several hundred to several thousand dollars in this study recommendation.  There are some that would not see a pay raise even with Option 3.

Police

New police officers (cadet/Police I) would not see a pay raise and would start at the current $30, 865.

Police officers make up the lower starting pay by the time they qualify for the police II and III levels and higher ranks.  Again Option 3 is much better for police in recognizing and paying for staying on the force.  Senior Police III and senior Sergeant see a nice increase in Option 3.

That is a wrap for this session. I hope my highlights of the pay study help both the taxpayer and the city employee.


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