Local News

Assembly votes to raise pay for city workers

Some city workers will get significant pay raises starting July 1. On Tuesday night (6-11-14), the Sitka Assembly gave final approval to an ordinance overhauling the pay-scale for non-union employees. The changes were prompted by a study that found some city salaries lagging well behind what is paid in other, similar communities.

The assembly argued that the changes are long overdue — and will be good for Sitka’s bottom line.

Assembly members seemed almost surprised that there wasn’t any pushback against the plan, which will raise salaries for the city’s non-union workforce by anywhere from 2.5- to 25-percent, depending on the position. Several managers will see their annual pay increase by over $10,000 this year, as Sitka tries to bring city salaries into line with what is paid elsewhere.

The change covers about 52 employees, many of them supervisors. That’s out of a total workforce of about 160. The rest of Sitka’s employees are unionized, and covered by collective bargaining agreements.

When Mayor Mim McConnell opened the floor to public comment, nobody stepped forward to speak either for or against the changes.

McCONNELL: Is there any public comment? [[silence]] OK, so no public comment. Back to the assembly.

There had been public comment via email, however, said Deputy Mayor Matt Hunter.

“Everyone who has written me has expressed concern with this,” Hunter said.  “In some cases people were somewhat misinformed, or just saw ‘pay increases’ and didn’t know much more about it.”

Assembly Member Phyllis Hackett said she had also heard from residents worried that the city is moving toward a “‘Cadillac’ pay-scale.”

“And I just think it’s really important for people to realize that this is not Cadillac,” Hackett said.  “We’re not raising people to the top of the scale. Our goal with this is to get people about mid-line.”

The “mid-line” is a key point. The plan adopted by the assembly was proposed by the consultant Fox Lawson and Associates, which compared Sitka’s pay with fifteen other communities. Fox Lawson generated salary ranges for each position, ranking cities from highest to lowest, and recommended bringing all Sitka employees to 90% of the range midpoint, or, in other words, 10-percent below the middle of the range. The plan approved by the assembly then grants all non-union employees a 2.5-percent across-the-board raise, to match increases for union workers this year.

For most employees the total increase amounts to a raise of about 2.5- and 4-percent.

But for some, the increase comes to 10-percent or more, with the biggest increases concentrated at the highest and lowest ends of the pay-scale. An administrative assistant will see a 17-percent raise, from about $36,000 to more than $42,000 a year. In the same department, the Electric Utility Director will see a 19-percent raise, from under $120,000 to about $140,000 a year.

Mayor Mim McConnell said the key issue is fairness.

“With the represented employees, they have unions speaking for them and can bargain for pay increases, and these non-represented employees don’t have that benefit,” McConnell said. “And I think that, as employers, it’s important for the assembly to consider them also and make sure they’re being treated fairly and in an equitable manner.”

Since 2007, members of the city’s three unions have seen their pay rise by 19- to 23-percent, depending on the union. Without the Fox Lawson adjustments, non-union employees’ pay would have risen by 16-percent over the same period, according to city numbers.

The new plan isn’t just about salary levels. It also changes how employees qualify for raises in the future. Hunter said he thinks the new system will be good for the city’s budget.

That’s because “it gets rid of the automatic annual step increases for all employees based on longevity,” Hunter said.

Employees can still qualify for a 2.5-percent raise every other year — but only up until they reach that mid-point of their pay scale. After that, raises are based solely on merit.

“So that means that we will not be paying people for showing up, we will be paying people more for doing more,” Hunter said. “That is more fair, and [it's] the private sector’s way of compensating employees.”

Under the plan, all employees, even those who no longer qualify for step-increases, will receive an annual 1.5-percent cost-of-living adjustment.

During the discussion, only Assembly Member Pete Esquiro expressed any reservations about the changes.

“I wish that there was a way that we could ease into this,” Esquiro said, adding that while he believes the new plan will be good for Sitka in the long run, he wishes the city were giving the public more time to digest the issue.

“To try to sell this at a time when other people who are working in the private sector are just barely hanging on, we’ve heard, by a thread…,” Esquiro said. “I would feel far more comfortable making this kind of adjustment over a two-year time period.”

In the end, Esquiro joined the rest of the assembly in voting 6-0 to approve the changes. Assembly Member Mike Reif was absent.

***

In other business, the assembly unanimously passed the budget for Fiscal Year 2015, which starts on July 1. And assembly members voted, on first reading, to increase utility rates for both water and wastewater. If the increases go into effect, residents will see their water bill rise from about $31 to $35 a month, a 15-percent increase. Sewer rates will increase from about $46 to $51 a month, a 9.5-percent increase. The rate increases were already included in the 2015 budget, but require separate votes to become law.

You can find more coverage of the Sitka Assembly here.

 

 

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