ROCKVILLE — In the face of a looming budget deadline, the city’s mayor and council delayed deciding how to implement recommendations to improve the city’s pay structure after hours of debate.
Deciding between two of the implementation options – current range penetration capped at midpoint versus current range penetration with no cap – members of the council requested numbers on implementation up to the 60th or 70th percentile of the range as a compromise.
Current range penetration would look at where an employees are in their current salary ranges and place them at the corresponding point in their new assigned ranges.
The midpoint option would affect 61 percent of employees and cost about $1.5 million. The second would affect 95 percent of employees and cost nearly $3 million.
Council member Tom Moore suggested a compromise setting a limit on how much officials wanted to spend in the fiscal 2016 budget to implement pay structure changes, since the staff said the no-cap option would not be fiscally wise. It is also not typically how implementation is done and could raise some salaries as much as $20,000, according to Nancy Berkley, the consultant from Evergreen Solutions who led the study.
But Mayor Bridget Newton criticized some of the study’s recommendations and their potential implementation as unfair and said she did not want to decide based on the money but on the number of employees who are helped.
The city has to decide on a budget the week of May 18 at the latest, according to Finance Director Gavin Cohen, and it the vote was planned for the May 18 agenda. City Manager Barbara Matthews urged the mayor and council against voting on the implementation on May 11 if they did not have all the information they wanted.
The mayor and council could also amend the fiscal 2016 budget if they did not decide on implementation of the study in time, Matthews said.
Implementation of the study’s recommended structure would put the city on average at the 68th percentile of the market. On top of that, the city could implement cost of living adjustments across the board in different ways on top of the new structure. In Matthews’ fiscal 2016 budget, she already planned for a 2 percent across-the-board increase.
Newton said she wanted to rectify years of not giving staff, such as the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 117 members, raises and felt the study did not do that. Newton said staff had the perception the study would make up for the years they asked staff to put up with little or no pay increases.
“I will tell you we have not upheld our word. … It is an embarrassment to me as an official of the city that we haven’t done that,” Newton said.
Others on the council said that is a problem because the study was never intended to make up for fiscal challenges.
“That’s just not going to happen. That’s not the point of this,” said Council member Beryl Feinberg.
Council members Moore, Julie Palakovich Carr and Feinberg voted to reaffirm certain assumptions of the study – comparing the 60th percentile with other jurisdictions – which resulted in the recommended 68th percentile structure and using an open pay range.
Although the Fraternal Order of Police and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1453 unions advocated merit-based steps rather than an open pay range, Feinberg said the open pay range gives more flexibility and allows people at different levels of achievement to make more than they might in a step system.
“I don’t think there’s ever a guarantee. That’s a misnomer – in public service, we never know what the economy will bear in terms of (cost-of- living adjustments) being granted or not granted and what can be afforded or not afforded by any jurisdiction, and we don’t know the revenue situation. I also think it’s more progressive frankly to go to a structure that is the banding structure,” Feinberg said.
But Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 117 President Michelle Milne said that could disrupt cooperation among officers because not every rank would get paid the same.
Newton advocated the steps since they still incorporate pay for performance but in a different way than open pay range. She voted against the open pay range after she learned that many jurisdictions in the area currently use steps for the police. At least nine who responded with salary data to the study have steps, according to Sentinel research.
On concerns about the 68th percentile structure placement in the market, Council member Virginia Onley said earlier on in the meeting she was still unsure which way she wanted to vote because she had more questions. The council had held two prior meetings on the study recommendations and approved their compensation philosophy in January, but the council had gotten more information periodically since January.
The council also brought up concerns about the placement of particular positions and titles, such as getting rid of a deputy clerk. Newton said she felt some positions in the city paid well and others did not and that she had intended for the consultant to be objective.
Berkley consulted with some department heads on the placement of certain positions if it did not seem to be in the right place based on the work and market position, not the individual who currently holds the position.
“No one individual, anyone here, ever had any more or less influence over me, us, Evergreen, period,” Berkley said.