COLUMBIA — The city can now pay up to $155,000 for its next Water and Light director after the Columbia City Council amended the salary ordinance and raised the cap on pay for department heads Monday.
The previous top salary allowance was $129,000, but City Manager Bill Watkins told the council it was insufficient to attract a qualified person to run Water and Light. The amended cap did not affect the bottom of the salary range, which will remain at $75,483.
The city has been looking for a Water and Light director since December, when Dan Dasho resigned to take a job in Michigan. Public Works Director John Glascock has held the position of interim Water and Light director since Jan. 1.
Consultant Mycoff, Fry & Prouse LLC, which Watkins considers the premier recruiter for public sector industries, is working on behalf of the city. According to Watkins, the firm concluded the current salary level was “out of whack” and inadequate to find the necessary replacement.
“When Mr. Dasho left us last year and we went through the process of finding a replacement, I said at that time that we could not, in my estimation, replace that position with the caliber of person we needed to run that very complicated operation or operations for what we are paying,” Watkins said. “It’s just the bottom line. Our consultant felt for the size and complexity of our operations, the market would probably necessitate about a 25 percent increase in the salary range.”
The consulting firm says the two final candidates that have been narrowed down for the position would require a salary of around $150,000, Watkins said.
Not only will this salary increase help Watkins make a final choice for the new Water and Light director, it will serve as incentive in filling future openings in positions such as the one held by retiring Police Chief Randy Boehm.
During the council’s discussion of the measure, Fred Eaton represented Water and Light employees, many of whom were present at the meeting. Eaton said they supported the change but also wanted to lobby for higher salaries across the board.
“For the past several years, we have advised the city management through a meet-and-confer process that we have not been able to hire qualified union workers because our compensation packages fall far below market,” Eaton said in his statement to the council.
The council noted its concerns about the wages of all city workers.
“I think the folks in this community are awfully lucky and fortunate to have the caliber of people we have,” Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade said. “Our studies continue to show that we are below market for a lot of particularly skilled positions that we have that we depend on every day to keep our water running and the lights on and to work at the Police and Fire departments.
“We have talked about the trends of experienced people retiring or leaving us,” Wade continued. “Again, we have to go out into the market and hire the best people we can. ... Most of our hirings are at the lowest level of the (pay) range,” Wade said.
The council and city manager hope to address salary problems at all levels.
“My goal is to move all of our employees to what I consider to be higher market range,” Watkins said.