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‘Broken system’: Workforce classifications draw council concern

By Staff | Feb 5, 2015

City Council reasserted itself on the total compensation study issue at Wednesday’s special workshop session at the Nicholas Annex.

In response to the staff report from Human Resources Director Lisa Sonego and City Manager John Szerlag, council members indicated they are headed in the right direction to rectify a “broken system” they say currently exists in the city work force. Council again demanded the total compensation report by June 15. At the next council meeting on Monday, members will decide and communicate exactly what they want from the report.

“You can see we on council are committed to this,” said Councilmember Derrick Donnell. “You had me at hello with the ranges. The system is broken and we have to start from scratch. If it’s broken you don’t patch it, you start from scratch with every position. That is what I want to see.”

Council and staff went back and forth on hypothetical situations from basket weaver positions to teachers, and department head and assistant positions in an attempt to fully understand the scope of the study.

The discussion of study deadlines became a bit contentious at one point.

“I’m really disappointed,” Councilmember Richard Leon said. “For two weeks in a row I, we, made it clear about getting this done June 15. We want everything. Give us everything. If we don’t get it we’re rolling heads.”

“I’m just looking for consistency,” said Mayor Marni Sawicki. “We have employees we can’t promote because they’ll be taking a pay cut.”

Szerlag addressed that specific item saying when the fire chief is on vacation the acting chief (both nonbargaining positions) is compensated for a period of five days or more. That’s not the case throughout the work force.

“When I’m on vacation I don’t think Mike (Ilczyszyn) as acting assistant city manager is ever compensated,” said Szerlag. “I can fix that now as a matter of city policy.”

The basic problem the city faces is outdated salary ranges and classification data, officials said. Some of the city’s positions do not exist in comparable municipalities being surveyed by this study. The industry standard in adjusting ranges and classes is done through a market analysis or benchmarking, the latter of which samples two or more levels of positions and fills in the blanks in between.

Several on council are comfortable with that, but others want each and every position studied individually. That would reportedly require staff to travel to other cities to collect useable data and incur significant expenses.

The city has more than 300 classifications covering 1,200 employees. Sonego said there are 252 title positions in the general employees union, which currently is in contract negotiations with the city. There are an additional 91 positions outside the bargaining employee ranks. City employees are 90 percent unionized and the total payroll consumes about 70 percent of the annual operating budget.

“I like this conversation we’re having,” said Councilmember Rick Williams. “It’s a conversation we’ve needed to have for a long time, but I think we are moving in the right direction.”

The compensation system fell into disarray over the last decade due to staff cutbacks, many years of a severe economic downturn, budget cuts to classification training programs were made to help balance the budget, according to those saying the reclassification study is needed.

HR, staff and union representatives agreed that the problem is about getting the salary ranges updated. If it is a rare occasion that the city manager goes to council to approve the salary for a new hire, the system works. When it becomes a regular occasion it should signal a problem exists. A market analysis may be required to bring the ranges in line.

In other discussions undertaken Wednesday, council heard the annual utilities report completed by outside consultant Hole Montes of Naples.

In summary, the report praises how the ongoing upgrading of aging equipment from membranes to installing radio-read meters is saving the city operating costs making it possible for the city to not raise water rates.

“The city has recently completed a major capital improvement program which increased system capacity considerably,” the Hole Montes report states. “This will allow for future expansion of the utility’s customer base as well as allows for system redundancy and reliability at today’s demands on the system.

“Based on an inspection of the water and sewer facilities, review of records, and discussions with utility staff, the city’s consulting engineer has concluded that the water and sewer systems are maintained in good condition and operate in an efficient and economical manner.”

Council also agreed with the staff’s nine proposed Chapter 19 utilities code of ordinance revisions to proceed. The rest of the 33 recommended changes are to undergo further review, analysis and research before being brought back to council.

“Our concerns are on customer service first and foremost,” said Councilmember Jim Burch.