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Wise decision

March 6, 2015
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

This week, Cape Coral City Council tabled a proposal to continue the city's efforts to "make up" for a lack of employee raises during the bust years.

Instead of approving City Manager John Szerlag's bid to adjust the pay ranges for all non-bargaining employees by 10 percent as well as grant 5 percent pay increases for these mostly salaried staffers, council opted to bring the matter to a workshop session.

That was a wise decision.

For a lot of reasons.

One, while we agreed it was time for the city to revisit the unofficial raise freeze necessitated by plummeting tax revenues caused by the bottom falling out of the housing market, the 10 percent raises - including retroactive "bonus" checks - previously approved for bargaining unit employees was a mistake.

As predicted, the pay package for the first contract set a precedent and the following approvals fell like dominoes until Monday when the board decided to wait for both the city manger's return from a lobbying trip to Tallahassee and the type of in-depth discussion that can be had at a workshop.

Some subject areas we would like to see discussed as the city continues to address both employee compensation levels and a charter-mandated requirement to revisit job classifications that is due this year?

- The city manager consistently refers to a goal of raising employee pay to the "75th percentile," meaning he proposes to pay employees within the top 25 percent of wages for comparative public positions in the state.

While council has had discussions on this goal, while there may be some consensus, there has never been a vote at a public meeting.

Schedule one.


This administrative objective is hardening into set policy. With that comes both a starting point for contract negotiations and a high level of employee expectation. Especially in light of council's reasoning for the 10 percent "bumps:" that city employees "went without" and the city now has to "catch up."

The public has a right to provide input on the level at which salaries should be set. Give them the opportunity.

And tell those taxpayers where the numbers are going if council approves the 75th percentile recommendation.

For example, the assistant city manager currently earns $116,313 with council asked to bump that to $122,129. The average compensation for that position, at the 75th percentile, is $143,826. The maximum at that level is $176,348.

The city clerk earns $76,898 with a recommended bump to $80,742. The city's director's study shows that position at $136,591 at midrange for the top 25 percent. It's $164,798 at the maximum.

The numbers for other directors are similar.

Did we mention the city manager has asked for unilateral ability to give raises or hire in up to the maximum?

- The city charter mandates an employee reclassification study every five years. It's an odd requirement as the private sector tends to follow the review-as-you-go approach but no matter, the city currently is doing as is required. There have been some internal reviews and a formal study is under way.

While we understand the pay range initiatives are tied to the 75th percentile "goal," discuss -and decide -what, if anything, should be done with non-contract employee ranges while the reclassification process perks.

Why is this important?

The price tag bandied about to reclassify employees and then adjust payroll to reflect proper pay grades has been put at $23 million.

Per year in additional payroll.

More than the city said it needed to pay for capital improvements to be funded by two new taxes.

Staff has said the number is probably closer to $17 million. Others are predicting the number will be closer to $40 million if all jobs are reclassified to accurately reflect current duties and grades.

No matter where the number comes in for full implementation, no matter whether council agrees to phase in the adjustments, implement them in one fell swoop or set some type of cap that doesn't come in at a full "fix," the city is preparing for increases.

Big ones.

Council must - must - take into account the likelihood of reclassification "raises" on top of increasing-the-range "raises," on top of double digit annual raises... well, you get the picture.

The question is, does a council majority?

The last time the city underwent this process was right before the boom. (The city did a reclassification study five years ago but did not have money for implementation.) Including merit bumps and "step" increases for years of service, some positions saw 30 and 40 percent increases last go around.

Payroll spiralled, creating the city's greatest fiscal challenge when the bottom fell out and property tax revenues - which make up the bulk of the city's general fund - dwindled.

Raises and range increases aren't coming in a vacuum - reclassification recommendations are likely to come with sticker shock.

So go slow with the piecemeal approach.

- The oft-repeated "employees went without" mantra is somewhat of a misnomer. Some employees have, in fact, had some serious "temporary" boosts that the public sector, of course, does not refer to as raises.

That is contractually agreed upon "other pay" including availability pay, standby pay and, a big one, out-of-classification pay for assuming extras duties and responsibilities, that in at least a couple of cases, has added up to 50 percent to base wages.

We expect the reclassification study will be taking at look at those working "out-of-classification."

Council should, too.

Bring this to the table at workshop.

- Finally, let us again stress that wages are only part of the compensation package. We keep hearing "wages" and "salaries" paired with the adjective "non-competitive."

But when it comes to total compensation - base pay, add-ons, and all benefits including required federal payins and other contributions, the city is silent.

Speak up.


Let's discuss the real numbers that add significantly to personnel costs. Then let's quantify whether we're "non-competitive."

We thank council for agreeing to a workshop on the most recent raise proposal.

We urge them to make sure the discussion is productive.

-Breeze editorial



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