Despite recent backlash about the lack of fair compensation for city employees, City Manager Mike Matthes said at Monday’s council meeting a 25-cent blanket pay raise is the most the city can afford for the upcoming fiscal year.
Multiple city departments, including the electric utility and the solid waste collection unit, have recently complained that a lack of competitive wages is resulting in unfair compensation for workers. These stagnant wages for city employees have resulted in departments struggling to keep and maintain a steady number of full-time workers.
Columbia Solid Waste Utility recently began collecting trash before recycling because of a staffing shortage. Columbia Water and Light has reported a mass exodus of electric line workers because of noncompetitive wages.
Matthes initially proposed the 25-cent raise during his annual budget address in July.
City employees also spoke during the public comment section at Monday’s meeting about the lack of pay raises for city employees.
Gerod Crum spoke on behalf of members of LIUNA Local 773 and brought up the high turnover rate of certain city departments, such as the sewer department. Crum and other city workers said the high turnover rate and low morale of current employees is directly related to low wages and poor working conditions.
Mayor Brian Treece said at a recent budget work session that he supported raising wages for the city’s trash collectors.
Matthes admitted that Columbia is falling behind other cities when it comes to competitive pay, but he remained committed to the city’s “one-size-fits-all” pay raise philosophy at Monday’s meeting.
“We’ve got a pay issue, there’s no doubt about that,” Matthes said.
Because of declining sales tax revenue and a relatively low property-tax rate, Matthes said the city does not have the available revenue to provide more than the proposed 25-cent raise. Matthes said the city has already had to trim numerous parts of the budget.
“The public hasn’t seen a lot of the pain we’ve experienced as a staff,” Matthes said.
At a budget work session before Monday’s council meeting, Matthes and other city staff explained the reasoning behind the current pay philosophy.
Margrace Buckler, human resources director for the city, said Columbia adopted its current pay philosophy in 2013 after hiring an outside consultant. It is a “stair-step” system that was adopted to ensure all city employees were treated equally.
The system prioritizes raises based on how much money is available in the budget, Buckler said. If money is available, the city’s first priority should be to make minimum adjustments to the pay scale based on the market, she said.
Then, if more money becomes available the city can implement experience-based raises for city employees with more than five years of experience. The final steps are to move to city-wide and performance-based pay raises, Buckler said.
Since the philosophy was adopted in 2013, the city has been unable to implement any of the recommended pay adjustments, according to Buckler’s presentation.
“If (the system) had been funded, it would have been great,” Buckler said.
Buckler also said the city is organizing a focus group of more than 800 city employees with the goal of coming up with recommendations on how to change the current pay philosophy.
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