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Compensation study for Council staffers could lead to pay increases

Thursday, March 10, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

City Council members appear ready to pursue increased salaries for their office staff as an answer to the city’s affordability crisis and the current competitive hiring environment that makes it difficult to retain workers.

At last week’s work session, Joya Hayes, director of human resources and civil service, gave an update on a request made in the fall for the city to conduct a study of current compensation levels for offices of the 10 Council members and the mayor’s office. Currently, the city provides $7.5 million total for the operations budget of those offices.

Hayes said the report from the Gallagher consulting firm has been delayed because of Covid infections within the company’s staff, pushing the expected receipt of the document to later this month. Hayes expects to present Gallagher’s findings to Council by the beginning of April, along with the latest five-year update from the city’s living-wage work group.

While discussing the bonuses for hiring, referrals and retention that some city departments have enacted in recent years, Hayes said there is ongoing difficulty preventing city workers from being lured to higher-paying positions in the private sector.

“The challenge for every human resources department, particularly in any municipality across the country, is creating outstanding job titles with competitive pay that compete with private sector entities that have much more capacity to pay than we do,” she said. “This is true for Council, but I also acknowledge that as a concern for almost every department in the city and we recognize the challenge to recruit and retain employees.”

Council Member Kathie Tovo told Hayes she and others in city operations would like to find a way to align job titles within Council offices with duties and roles in other city departments, particularly for those who leave the civil service pay and benefits structure to enter jobs at City Hall.

“It is also a challenge if we in our offices are recruiting staffers who are already in existing city departments,” she said. “And then when they conclude their work at City Hall they do not have access back into the municipal civil service that they would have if they would have remained in those departments.”

Council Member Vanessa Fuentes said the city should also look at how the rising cost of living in the city has affected how many Council staff members are able to live reasonably close to City Hall to perform their duties.

“Just knowing the affordability crisis that we are in and knowing that rent has gone up nearly 35 percent, it is extremely hard to have our own team members be able to get paid what they deserve for the amount of work they do,” she said. “It is completely unfair to not be able to pay our team members what they are worth.”

Council Member Ann Kitchen said plainly that the next budget needs to increase the allocation for Council offices to provide adequate salaries for up to four staff members.

“It does no good to say individuals should be paid at a certain level if that’s not reflected in the overall budget, and we can actually have a fair amount of flexibility with the overall budget to pay our staff. Our overall budget is not high enough for us to pay the amount of people we have in our office at a decent level.”

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