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County Council, July 24

County moves to streamline job classifications and pay plans
Decision deferred on Council member pay increases
Warwick Jones

It was an anticlimax. The Finance Committee decided to defer discussion and a vote on boosting Council members’ pay by nearly 50%. Council member Rawl noted that Council member Darby was overseas and considering the importance of the issue, a vote should wait until his return, he said. The Committee agreed. However, there was no hesitation or reluctance to approve the other recommendations of the Committee for Auditing Performance and Evaluation Standards (CAPES). These recommendations related to a complete revision of job classifications, the pay system, and the introduction of merit awards for County employees.

However, before providing more details, allow the author to express his frustration over Committee meetings. For a number of reasons, last night’s meeting of the Finance Committee attracted a large number of attendees. The overflow from the Committee room spilled into the hallway and the adjacent County chamber. The Committee meeting is broadcast to the Council chamber and theoretically, attendees can hear and see what transpires. Unfortunately, the system is inadequate and although much can be seen, little is heard. A reflection of this is the crowding in the entrance of the Committee room. Attendees realize that much is missed if they move to the chamber. So why then doesn’t Council move Finance Committee meetings that can be predicted to draw many attendees, to the Council Chamber? This question has been posed by the writer many times to Council members. And it is a question asked by many other attendees.

Last night’s meeting opened with a presentation by staff on an Improvement Plan for Trash Convenience Centers/Drop sites. It was followed by a lengthy discussion/interrogation of staff over details of the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) facility on Palmetto Commerce Parkway. Being in the Council chamber, we were unable to hear most of what transpired. But attendees who heard the Committee discussion assured us that we missed little. What we did hear raised the question as to whether Council is imposing itself unreasonably on staff. Or to use the cliché, is it attempting to micro manage? We heard a number of questions and warnings from Council members on issues that staff was dealing with. The answers, to the extent we could tell, indicated that staff was well aware of the issues, was dealing with them, and there was no legal or financial threat.

There have been other occasions when we have thought that Council was too harsh or demanding of staff. And again, this is not opinion unique to this writer. And perhaps it is not a bad thing that Council is so demanding. Better this than disinterest. But at the least, the price of micro management is prolonged meetings and fatigue on the part of Council members, staff and attendees. It may also affect the morale of senior staff.

So back to CAPES.

The initiative to overhaul the classification and payment system began some three years ago. The need for an overhaul is indicated by the current situation – 450 job classifications and 2472 employees. The proliferation of job classifications was spawned by the absence of incentives and/or inability to raise pay. To get round these obstacles, the County created new job classifications. The CAPES, with 12 members comprised of Council members, staff and elected officials, and with the assistance of a consultant, was tasked to reduce the number of job classifications, simplify pay structure, implement merit pay, and maintain a longevity system.

The recommendations are as follows:

  • Two pay plans – General and Public Safety

  • In General – ten core classifications and 50 grades/pay ranges

  • In Public Safety –six core classifications and 45 grades/pay ranges

  • Longevity increase of 3% for years 1,3,5,6,10 and every 5 years thereafter (Same as present except there is no increase in year 6)

  • Performance merit can begin in year 7. It can range from 1 to 2 % - e.g. 1% meets standards, 1.5% exceeds standards and 2% for outstanding performance.

CAPES estimated that 40% of employees will receive an adjustment but 90% of the increases will be given to those making $50,000 or less a year. The 2015 budget has a $600,000 allocation to cover the cost of implementation.

The implementation of the CAPES recommendations is an important first step. What follows next will be a market study – comparing County pay scales with others - and consequent adjustments. This was only touched on last night but potentially it could be a major issue.

We think that the CAPES recommendations make sense – it will streamline the salary and wage structure and give more clarity to future pay raises. And certainly, Council should endeavor to know where its pay scales lies in relation to those in other Counties and the private sector in general.

But as pointed out by some Council members, Council still retains authority to modify increases. Hard times may well cause Council to reduce or eliminate salary increases in any year or years. And again, how real is a maximum 2% increase for performance and only after year 7? Such an increase would provoke a yawn in the private sector, we believe.

As already reported in the media, CAPES recommended the remuneration of Council members be raised 44% to $20,738 a year and the Chair, by 50% to $26,142 a year. Undoubtedly, there will be strong opinions expressed for and against these proposed raises. On the face of it, the remuneration is a lot of money for a few meetings a month – of Council and Committees. But these meetings are only a part, and perhaps a small part of the time that members spend on Council matters. Actual time spent can run into days per week and not just hours. Members need to read and understand agendas, to meet with citizens and attend meetings with other citizen and private groups. By the measure of actual hours spent, the remuneration moves from token to a little more than token. But there will be a body of opinion that thinks Council members should look at serving as a civic duty and that pay should be token.

We’ll be interested to hear what Council members say about the proposed increase when discussed at the next Finance Committee meeting. We doubt that a decision will be unanimous but we suspect the majority of Council members will be for it.

There was no discussion about the distributions from the Accommodation Tax proceeds for FY 2015. But there was the audible sigh from Council member Schweers who lauded Council for taking politics out of determining allocations and shifting it to the Visitors Bureau. (It devised a scoring system which has been used for determining allocations for some years now) Viewers can see the names of the recipients, and the allocated amounts for FY 2015 (third column form the right) by pressing Download file. The page also needs to be rotated clockwise.

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