by Terry Rogers
At a recent City Council meeting, Angele Yazbec, Senior Human Resources Consultant for Evergreen Solutions, presented the results of a job classification and rate study the company conducted for the city. According to Yazbec, the company used interviews and focus groups with city employees to determine how employee salaries were progressing through pay ranges.
“We reviewed the city’s compensation philosophy to see how they were currently compensating employees and how they want to continue compensating employees moving forward,” Yazbec said. “We also conducted an internal equity analysis by surveying the market to determine what would be market competitive salary ranges. Based on these findings, we revised the pay plan to be competitive with the market, individually assigned the classifications or job titles to a pay grade or a range and we have developed an optional method for implementing the revised pay plan and ranges.”
Yazbec explained that when they talked with employees overall, employees stated that they enjoyed the positive work atmosphere in the city and that they find serving the local community rewarding. However, there was some concern about the impression between more tenured employees and new hires as well as a feeling that some job titles needed to be updated to better reflect the duties and responsibilities of those positions.
“We conducted an overview analysis of the type of plan that the city administers, which is a step plan with 17 grades and 31 steps with a 1.5 percent step increase. So, each step has a 1.5 percent increase and a range of 56 percent. Now, this 56 percent is referring to what is the difference between the maximum and minimum, or step one to the maximum. We reviewed the distribution of salaries within the plan’s ranges. So, we saw overall that we have some employees below the midpoint and some above the midpoint, but overall, that’s a fairly good distribution. The reason we focus on the midpoint is that it’s typically considered the market plan. Employees at this point should be performing their job proficiently and satisfactorily. However, with this distribution in mind, we still need to go to the market to ensure that the rates are competitive.”
Because the city wishes to be competitive in the market, Yazbec explained that they collected salary information from 19 public sector peers, some which included actual salary data. This portion of the study found that the city did offer fairly competitive salaries, but since they are in a competitive market, it was recommended that they adjust the grade and step plans which would then lead to salaries that would closer match those of other public sector jobs in the area.
“Our recommendation is to move to a 16 grade, 18 step plan with a three percent progression,” Yazbec said. “There are fewer steps, but the step progression is key here. It’s important, especially in this market, to progress employee salaries at a rate in which they are being compensated appropriately for what they do. As I mentioned earlier, the midpoint is very critical because that’s the point at which employees are performing their job efficiently and satisfactorily. With the redesign of the pay plan, the employees would be able to progress through the ranges at a better rate and that would also help with retention moving forward.”
After the presentation, Councilman Mike Boyle asked if step increases were tied to years in a position or would they be based on merit promotions. City Human Resources Director Jamesha Williams stated that the increases would be based on merit increases. Councilman Boyle expressed concern that someone who enjoys their job and is performing exceptionally could reach the maximum and be unable to receive increases. Williams explained that it was possible for employees to move into other positions where the increases would be available.
“We’ve had some in billing that are now permit techs or admins,” Williams said. “So, we’ve had cross movement happen, but it’s not the type of movement that would occur in the private sector where you have all these vacancies, and you could cross over to the different positions.”
Councilman Todd Culotta asked if employees at the midpoint would be considered overpaid based on the new step plan. Williams stated that they were not over paid but where they should be based on the current labor market. Councilman Boyle stated that he was concerned about an employee dead ending as far as increases.
“I guess the whole point is that if we get the most experienced people still relatively young and they hit a wall,” Councilman Boyle said. “We look at that and I look at the impact that could have going down the road. Obviously, this chart progresses to a point. If someone starts in their 20s, by the time they hit their 40s, they hit a wall. In some categories, they don’t have another job they can go to and all the experience they have is so narrowly focused, they never have a chance within the city to expand their categories or the opportunity to advance.”
City Manager Mark Whitfield explained that the city had one employee who maxed out under the old pay plan.
“They had a lot of experience,” Whitfield said. “One of the things in doing a pay study every five years or so is to make sure you are keeping up with the market and you look at those positions that are hitting the wall and is that still the case. With the new pay scale, that person is not near being close to the wall now. So, it is important to upgrade this pay study every five years or so to make sure that you are dealing with those people who may be reaching that wall. Now, you may run into a case where that employee has hit the wall, but that is what the market says is the wall and that is where they stay. They still get cost of living increases each year, but in terms of step, there is little or no room to move unless they go into new positions. I can tell you that rarely happens here, that they hit the wall.”
Councilman Culotta explained that many employees who start in their 20s tend to have different positions by the time they are in their 40s. Councilman Boyle pointed out that there is only one job category in the streets department, so those employees would have little opportunity to move into a line or supervisory position.
“It is not always about the money that attracts them,” Councilman Boyle said. “It is the challenge to do a little something more with their skills. I understand we are limited because we have a finite amount of employees, but I just want to see, well, in five years we will look at it again.”
Councilman Jason James suggested that an employee could continue to grow and that an employee at midpoint could go to maximum. He also stated that if there were vacancies in other departments and that employee has additional skills, they could move into a higher position in another department.
“You are absolutely correct,” Williams said. “We have had administrative assistants go to supervisor. We’ve even had permit techs go to deputy city clerks. The idea is that if that person wants that progression, the opportunity is out there. But, just across the board, every employee does not want to move. Some are very comfortable with what they do. They like knowing they come in day-to-day, and they know exactly what they are doing. There are no changes in it. We have people who enjoy what they do. Our goal is to retain them and moving that cell every four years helps that, particularly when the market does as it did earlier this year which we weren’t expecting.”
Whitfield stated that one of the outcomes of the study was learning that the 31 step progressions system with a 1.5 percent increase was frustrating to employees.
“To council’s credit, you’ve recognized that and allowed employees to move two steps over the past two years,” Whitfield said. “If you had an employee that was borderline, you could give them the 1.5 percent. We went back and looked at what actually happened and whether people were meeting expectations, or they were not. We had some employees who were not, and they merited. It was a very small number, but that did occur. Nearly all employees got a three percent merit increase. One of their frustrations is that it will take 25 years to get to the end in the current plan, so their frustration was moving that along faster. I think our survey showed that we should be moving along faster, so putting that at three percent between each step will go a long way in retaining employees. Number two, as long as you do what you have done in the past couple of years with the cost-of-living increase that goes on top of that, I think we will address a lot of frustrations.”
Councilman Boyle stated that he was amazed at the dedication and enthusiasm expressed whenever he came in contact with a City of Milford employee.
“I just want to say that, since the pandemic, I think a lot of employees, including the City of Milford, had an opportunity to cross train and not because they wanted to, but because we needed them to,” Councilwoman Katrina Wilson said. “So, with that, people have had the opportunity to work in other departments to get a feel of different departments, so that’s another way that they were able to see if they liked that job and give them an opportunity to want to move up into those different positions.”
Later in the meeting, council voted unanimously to approve enhancement of employee salaries based on the recommendations in the presentation by Evergreen.
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