fair compensation for city employees

At our last City Council meeting, we passed a new comprehensive compensation plan for city employees, which I ultimately voted in favor of. It was indeed a tough vote which I exercised with thorough thought and consideration. Deciding a city employee’s pay is not easy, but I’m confident that we made the right choice, and that we have a plan that is fair, equitable and competitive.

For the past several decades, the pay for many of these employees was determined through collective bargaining between their union and the city. With the recent passing of Act 10 in the state of Wisconsin, we had to now create our own plan that fairly compensates our employees (with the exception of the police and fire departments, which are excluded by Act 10) for their hard work and dedication. Doing this on our own would not be prudent, so we hired Carlson Dettmann Consulting to study our departments and positions, and make a recommendation to us that would be fair in today’s market. And that’s the operative word in this whole plan, “fair”.

If you read my blog regularly or follow me on Facebook, you know that I love it when folks in the community contact me and attend meetings to share their thoughts. So I was happy to receive e-mails from several employees affected by this plan. It’s really the only way for us to know their concerns and their perspective, which is so unique and important. Based on several e-mail conversations I had in the days leading up to the meeting, I was able to ask a number of questions at the meeting and have our consultant clarify a number of things.

One significant sticking point in the whole plan is that 25 of the 79 employees are in positions where their pay is already above a fair market value, and therefore their salary is “red circled”, meaning that it’s frozen until such time as we decide to unfreeze it (the duration is difficult to predict, since we pass a new budget every year, the City Council membership can change, and the compensation plan should be reviewed annually). From the employees’ point of view, there is no way that this is good. To find out that you will not have an opportunity for pay increases for the foreseeable future is not a comforting thought for a family to absorb. There were also a number of other valid concerns. But when we use the word “fair”, we also have to be talking about what’s fair to the taxpayers who are paying the salaries. And I hope that everyone realizes that this is the position that the City Council is in.

A number of people spoke at our meeting, including city employees and two representatives of AFSCME. There were many points made and good questions asked. You can watch the meeting video yourself (and you’ll hear the specific questions I asked), but I’ll just touch on two specific points. Martha Merrill, the lead research analyst for AFSCME Council 40 asked the simple question, “will De Pere be able to attract the best and the brightest work force?” While she said, “no”, I say “yes”. It’s that simple. I feel that the plan we approved will indeed allow us to continue to attract the best and brightest. Merrill also referred to an “exodus to the private sector” in other communities with plans like ours. Again, I just don’t think that’ll happen. But the bottom line is that we’ve chosen a plan that we feel our taxpayers can afford. We just can’t afford more. So, I hope there won’t be an exodus, and I certainly don’t think there will be an exodus. I genuinely hope that our city employees will find that their compensation here in De Pere is fair for the work and dedication they give us.

Ultimately, I refer back to some of the wording of the actual resolution that we passed. It says in part, that the council “desires to employ City staff utilizing a compensation plan that is internally equitable and competitive and that emphasizes acknowledging employee contributions.” While doing so, we must factor in our limited tax dollars available to pay for such a plan. I didn’t take this issue lightly. I believe we passed a plan that is fair for city employees and taxpayers. Time will tell.