Statesboro City Council approved a new job classification and pay plan Tuesday that will result in raises for about 270 of the city’s 300 or so employees at a continuing annual cost of about $566,000 when fully implemented.
More than half of those employees, roughly 170 of them, will see their first raises April 29.
One year ago, during discussions for the current budget, city department heads agreed to forego a 1.5 percent raise for all employees so that the money could be spent on a pay study and initial adjustments that would result.
“It was made pretty clear that council didn’t think we should do just an across-the-board raise, and I agreed with that 100 percent because we knew that within just a matter of weeks after doing that, more than likely we would still have compression issues and starting pay issues and we would be back in front of you asking for additional dollars,” interim City Manager Robert Cheshire told council members Tuesday.
Some department heads warned the council the past two years about effects of pay scale compression, in which supervisors are paid little, if any, more than senior employees they supervise. It was particularly cited as an obstacle to promotions within the police force. Meanwhile, after some years of frozen wages during the economic downturn, the leaders of other departments, such as water and sewer, said they were in danger of losing good employees.
So the council contracted Evergreen Solutions LLC, based in Tallahassee, Florida, last August to conduct a compensation study at a cost of $35,000.
Evergreen compared Statesboro’s pay rates to those of 14 “market peers,” notes the March 31 final report. Those peer employers included the Augusta, Dublin, Garden City, Hinesville, Pooler, Richmond Hill and Savannah, Ga., and Hilton Head Island, S.C., city governments, plus the Bulloch County and Chatham County governments, the Bulloch County Board of Education, Ogeechee Technical College, Georgia Southern University and the Georgia Ports Authority.
For comparisons to the peer agencies, the firm considered 48 benchmark job classifications. Pay for other jobs on Statesboro’s payroll was then adjusted for “internal equity” in comparison to these benchmarks, Evergreen Solutions consultant Gregory J. Ortego told City Council.
The firm determined the 55th percentile minimum, midpoint and maximum pay for these jobs, in other words, a rate marginally better than that paid by 54 percent of the agencies at each of these points. The city of Statesboro’s pay rates averaged 13 percent lower than the 55th percentile for minimum pay, 5.7 percent lower for midpoint and 2.7 percent lower for maximum pay, Ortego said.
City staff members, including Human Resources Director Jeff Grant, Finance Director Cindy West and Cheshire, sought input from other employees and to help develop the pay plan proposed in the report.
“Using the pay plan, we then provided pay grade recommendations,” Ortego said. “Some classifications’ pay grades increased, some remained relatively the same, but all of them pretty much changed.”
No salaries will be reduced, he said. If any salaries were above suggested maximums, these would be “redlined” and not given annual percentage raises, but this situation did not actually exist, Ortego said.
Phase 1 funded
With Tuesday’s vote, City Council adopted the complete pay plan and its recommendations in principle, but funded only the Phase 1 of the raises under the current, fiscal year 2016 budget.
In Phase 1, effective with checks issued April 29, the 171 or so city employees whose current pay is below the minimum recommended levels will get raises to the minimum levels. This phase alone is projected to cost $280,911 annually.
One example of the new rates is a recommended minimum salary for a police officer of $32,308, with a 43-hour work week. The city’s website shows a job posting for certified officers starting at $13.97 an hour, which indicates a previous annual rate of $31,237 at 43 hours a week.
Proposed Phases 2 and 3 would adjust salaries and wages of 272 employees to nearer the recommended midpoint levels, but subject to a formula for keeping the pay rates spread out rather than bringing them all to the exact midpoint.
Phase 2, the first half of the raise toward midpoint wages, is proposed to take effect in January 2017, and carries an approximate annual cost of $142,454.
Phase 3, the second half of the raise toward midpoint, is proposed to take effect in July 2017, and also carries an annual cost of $142,454.
This way, the total projected cost of $565,899 in pay increases would be phased in over fiscal years 2016, 2017 and 2018. Fiscal 2016 ends June 30, and fiscal 2017 begins July 1, 2016. None of the estimates include benefit costs.
Councilman Phil Boyum questioned whether the council had been given enough time to consider all of the recommendations in the final report, which members received three days before the meeting. But after assurances that funding was being committed only to Phase 1, and with other council members saying they were ready to approve, Boyum made the motion to do so.
The vote was 4-0, with Councilman Travis Chance absent, as he and his wife were expecting the birth of a baby.
‘A huge change’
In addition to pay rates, the plan changes some job titles. It also provides for a shift away from “premium pay” in which employees received raises for accumulating certifications and professional training, to “performance pay,” with merit raises potentially based on annual reviews, Ortego explained.
Mayor Jan Moore called the pay plan “a huge change,” for a city with a general fund budget smaller than those of most similar-sized cities, and said she hopes employees will appreciate this.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m not a little nervous about this in the sense that we’re going to have to feel confident that we can support it and pay for it,” Moore said. “But I think our biggest asset in the city of Statesboro right now is our employees doing a tremendous job with less resources than our neighbors.”
The 1.5 percent raise that city employees gave up last year had an estimated price tag of $180,000. About $150,000 of that will now be distributed to all city employees as a $500 one-time bonus, also with the April 29 checks, Cheshire said. That way, he said, employees whose pay was already above the new minimums will also receive some extra money at this time.
The first phases of the new pay plan can be funded from other savings, including combining of jobs after recent vacancies, he said. The assistant water and sewer director replaced the retired director, the information technology and purchasing director positions have been combined, and some other new hires earn less than the people they replaced, Cheshire noted.
He said he does not plan to propose a tax increase for fiscal year 2016.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.