ROCKVILLE – Questions about fair and equitable pay remain in the city despite the recent completion of the long-awaited compensation and classification study.
It doesn’t“hit the mark” yet, said Mayor Bridget Newton.
Newton and the council members went through the final report on April 15 with consultant Nancy Berkley of Evergreen Solutions, whom the city hired for $52,000 to look at the pay structure in the city. Amid questions and concerns from the city’s three employee groups, the mayor and council brought up concerns about the fairness of the study and the best implementation method for the changes.
Central to the debate has been the open pay range in the study, which establishes ranges for each salary grade but does not specify increments by which an employee moves through the range. Michelle Milne, Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 117 president, said the police are asking not for an automatic step increase based on time with the city, but one that progresses given a satisfactory performance evaluation.
Councilmember Tom Moore said the study did hit the mark, but he still had concerns about the police pay because the nature of their work is different.
Berkley said she made the structure an open pay range because that was what the mayor and council put in their compensation philosophy. At the April 15 meeting she estimated about half of the jurisdictions surveyed in the area have step plans.
Of those who responded to Evergreen’s survey for salary data, at least nine nearby jurisdictions have step increase systems for police, according to budget and human resources documents. College Park does not have a police force and Bowie and Leesburg do not use a step system. Takoma Park does not currently have step increases but is looking to reinstate a step pay system to keep up with the market in combination with pay for performance for fiscal 2016, according to City Manager Suzanne Ludlow.
But Berkley said step systems do not guarantee progression even if they are in place. In Rockville, that has been the case for Rockville officers for five years, a sticking point for the FOP in every budget cycle.
Berkley also said in a step system involving performance, governments rarely hold anyone back even if they technically could.
“The steps are awarded pretty much routinely…only someone who’s completely not performing at all (would not get it) in which case they were probably asked to exit the company,” Berkley said.
Takoma Park stopped using step increases for the police in 2010 when the recession hit, according to Ludlow. Barbara Matthews, Rockville’s current city manager, served as Takoma Park’s city manager at the time.
Ludlow said the new system of steps would hopefully be in place for fiscal 2016, but negotiations with the city’s police union are still ongoing.
But Newton said her concerns with the study go beyond the open pay range, as do the FOP’s: the study could disadvantage officers or other employees who have a lot of time with the city.
Berkley said the study is based on the data, but the mayor and council can still adjust based on what they think is most fair. She said the duration of a person’s employment with the city does not factor into how jobs are classified into pay grades – that is based solely on the work involved in the position gathered from employees, the description and some supervisors’ reviews.
Milne said grouping officers with different years of service into the same grade would not work.
“It’s like saying ‘thanks’ and kicking sand in their face at the same time,” she said.
Milne and the other employee representatives also had concerns about cost of living adjustments (COLA) and those who are at the maximum of their pay grade.
“The COLA is meant to adjust for inflation. If an officer is topped out for five or eight years before he retires, that retirement pay is then that much further behind the real world,” Milne said.
Ann Wallas, representative of the Association of Administrative Municipal Employees, said most employers in the Washington metropolitan area apply the COLA to the pay structure.
Moore said they could just call the across-the-board adjustment a COLA, but they would still have to make a policy decision as to how to apply that to someone at the maximum. Berkley said in the study’s classifications, 17 positions would be topped out.
Newton advocated giving everyone the percent increase rather than a lump sum for those who top out.
“If it’s a COLA, an honest to goodness COLA, then it needs to be added to base,” she said.
Matthews’ proposed fiscal 2016 budget includes a 2 percent across-the-board adjustment for employees. Matthews said at the April 15 meeting the city’s pay plan specifies employees cannot be paid over the maximum. According to the Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual for employees, lump sums for performance or other incentive pay can bring people above the maximum of their pay grade.
Some directors in the city receive a 10 percent bonus on top of their base pay, in addition to phone and car allowances for some employees. For example, Director of Public Works Craig Simoneau makes a base salary of $165,322.73, the maximum of his grade according to the fiscal 2015 budget. According to a list of the city’s current salaries, Simoneau also receives a $540 phone allowance and $16,532.27 contract pay that brings him above the maximum salary for his grade.
At the meeting, Newton said she wanted to ensure they made the fair decisions, which could mean pushing decisions on the study past the fiscal 2016 budget deadline.
Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr said she does not want to delay when employees have been waiting for so long for the study results and Newton said Carr had a good point.