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The buck needs to stop here

October 3, 2014
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

With a couple of years of property valuation stabilization under its belt and a pair of new taxes in its pocket, the city of Cape Coral has embarked on a plan it says will allow the municipality to recruit and retain good employees.

That's a good goal - city workers, like those in the private sector, absorbed duties as positions were eliminated, went without raises and, in the case of union members, took pay cuts and made concessions through the recession that slammed our community hard.

Good, though, is not the word that immediately comes to mind upon examining the city administration's decidely public sector approach to resolving its perceived recruitment/retention challenge.

That is to resurrect the raise-and-reclassification go-to that compares public sector positions and compensation to other public sector jobs and pay, eschewing local market comparables.

Worse, in the Cape's case, the game plan -at least in the present -also ignores total employee compensation, which is benefits heavy, even if it may be a tad salary light.

So where are we in the wake of approved 5 percent across-the-board employee raises as of Oct. 1?

- The city has an actual 10 percent raise sitting on the City Council consent agenda Monday for police employees - a 5 percent increase to base wages retroactive to July 1 of this year and the approved 5 percent increase this week with the start of the new fiscal year.

"This moves us closer to the 75th percentile in pay," said City Manager John Szerlag in a memo to council, asking that the increases also be approved for non-bargaining unit police positions including chief, deputy chief and captains.

According to Mr. Szerlag, to be competitive, city wages and salaries need to be among the top 25 percent paid by comparable communities.

- The city has a reclassification proposal on the table for council consideration Monday that would create three new position classifications and change the job titles of a half dozen utility employees by at least three pay grades, resulting in salary adjustments of up to nearly 19 percent.

In conjunction, but not requiring council approval, is the administration's plan to reclassify the job titles for an additional 10 employees who will see their pay grades jump by one or two classifications.

This is to recognize the duties being actually performed, rather than job descriptions, officials said this week, adding that as positions were eliminated through layoffs or attrition, remaining employees saw their performance requirements expand.

As proposed by the city manager, the reclassifications - and respective pay raises -would be retroactive to March 29 for some employees and May 10 for others, meaning those employees would get what we in the private sector would call a "bonus" check.

A couple of things, two repeats, the others new.

One, salary evaluations must - must - be predicated on total compensation; it's a mistake to look at wages and salaries in a vacuum.

That means the value of the benefits package must be included.

We believe the city is more competitive than it thinks.

Two, in that same apples-to-apples vein, wage and salary levels for like private sector positions should be part of the evaluation. If we learned anything from the boom-and-bust, the public sector comparison spiral is a failed business model. It simply is not sustainable.

Three, job reclassifications. To council we say go slow.

Very slow.

If these entail quantifiable new skills, new training or verifiable new responsibilities - i.e. the employee took on a supervisor's role without ever getting the title -it's a reclassification.

If it's a new title for the job an employee is currently performing - and yes, that includes the "extra" duties that justified keeping the position on the books -it's a pay raise.

And a 19 percent bump is pretty hefty - at least in the private sector.

And lastly, retroactive raises?

Let us be blunt: The city should not be cutting "bonus" checks.

It's a fiscally dangerous precedent and this door should stay firmly shut.

We urge council to scrutinize any and all payroll issues that come before it. Personnel costs are, after all, the city's largest single expense.

-Breeze editorial



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