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Freeze on merit pay raises results in few city salary increases

Monday, October 8, 2007 | 5:22 p.m. CDT; updated 9:52 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — More than 1,300 city employees did not receive raises this year because of a freeze on merit pay increases.

But another 379 did get pay increases — an average of 13.86 percent over last year. Nearly all were either transferred or promoted.

The highest raise was 151.98 percent, given to a recreation worker who became a permanent, full-time recreation specialist.

Fourteen employees took pay cuts, according to payroll reports provided by the city Human Resources Department. The report was current as of late September.

All city employees received cost-of-living increases across the board at the end of September 2006 and 2007, but there were no merit pay raises during fiscal year 2007, said Margrace Buckler, director of human resources for the city.

A new fiscal year began Oct. 1, when employees became eligible for City Council-approved merit performance raises.

An analysis of salary data for 1,709 employees whose names appeared on city payroll reports in 2006 and 2007 shows:

• A total of 1,316 workers had no merit pay increase in 2007, including the city’s top managers. The city manager remains the highest paid official at $145,600, followed by the director of the Water and Light Department at $112,339; and the finance director and city counselor at $111,921.

• Ninety-nine employees received raises of less than 5 percent.

• Another 112 received raises between 5 percent and 10 percent.

• Fifty-five earned pay raises between 10 percent and 15 percent.

• A total of 113 employees got raises that were 15 percent or more.

• Of those, six workers received raises of more than 100 percent. All had been promoted, and five moved from part-time to full-time positions.

Almost all of the 379 raises either moved up a level or transferred from part-time to full-time status.

Exceptions were two engineers from the Water and Light Department who received 21 percent and 23 percent increases. Their salaries were raised to parity with new outside hires.

“Our ordinance allows city manager-approved pay increases to current employees when this happens, and it does not very often,” Buckler said. “Engineers are scarce and difficult to recruit right now.”

Cuts in pay typically reflect temporary employment situations.

“Employees have been stepped up to a higher-level position to fill in for an absent employee or during a vacancy,” Buckler said, ”or employees are appointed to an acting position and then go back to their regular position.”

Employees could receive a cost-of-living increase and, if warranted, an increase for excellent performance each fiscal year, said Toni Messina, city communication director..

The city plans to initiate a new performance evaluation review system beginning this month. The proposal was generated by an employee satisfaction survey carried out in 2006 that showed “employees want a more fair evaluation system,” Messina said.

The survey noted that the most consistent negative opinions were tied to recognition and rewards.

Among the 997 responses, 53.9 percent thought they could not count on a pay raise and 56.6 percent thought they could not count on a promotion despite good job performance. Moreover, 57.2 percent thought their salaries were unfair their responsibilities.

“We are redoing the forms and the process and are in the final stages of getting ready to implement the changes. (The changes include) different forms, competencies better defined and tied to job descriptions.” Buckler said.

“People will be more thoughtful and a lot more conscious of what they do every day (after the new system starts working).” Messina said.


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