New Pay Structure Approved for City Workers; Council Suspicious of Process
Left, City Council Members debate a new pay plan for Stevens Point city workers. (City-Times photo)
By Brandi Makuski
Despite lingering questions, Stevens Point City Council Members approved a new pay plan for city workers Monday night, which puts some employees in line for a pay raise, and enforces a pay freeze for others.
The new pay structure, designed by Madison- based consulting firm Carlson Dettmann, compared duties and salaries of each city employee with a list of comparable municipalities to achieve a market average salary for each position. While Council Members each approved of implementing the new pay structure itself, many opposed the process used, specifics of which was kept from the Council.
Aldermen Randy Stroik and Mike Wiza were not in attendance at the meeting but sent correspondence in advance. Stroik said he was supportive of the pay plan, which he said “was very much a necessity and sets us on a path of success to moving our employees’ pay forward. I’m glad no employee at this time will receive a reduction in pay.”
Wiza said he couldn’t determine whether he approved of the plan or not, expressing his opposition in a text message sent to Council President Jerry Moore Monday morning.
“Please express my opposition to the pay plan because I haven’t seen how they arrived at those numbers,” Wiza’s message read.
Council Members have questioned the process several times over the past several weeks, curious how Charlie Carlson from Carlson Dettmann figured the point scale given to specific job positions, thereby placing jobs at certain steps in the pay scale. That information, Carlson has said, is propriety and protected under a trade secrets clause within the Wisconsin Open Records Law.
“I was elected as an alderperson to be the checks and balances of the administration,” said Alderman Jeremy Slowinski. “I have asked several times now for some solid numbers that back up this plan. I want proof these numbers are accurate. I have not gotten that. I don’t want to delay this, but I’m not comfortable. There’s no proof these numbers are solid.”
Council Members had previously asked Carlson for the specific numbers but he repeatedly declined citing the information was proprietary. Halverson said he also relayed the Council’s concerns to Carlson over the phone during a subsequent conversation to no avail.
Halverson did say he managed to convince Carlson to provide something to satisfy the Council, though, which came in the form of an executive summary of the project. But Slowinski and other Council Members said that summary proved to only serve as a recitation of everything they’d received previously on the study. The salaries or point scales from comparable cities still have not been provided to the Council.
“I asked Lisa (Jakusz, city personnel director), and a few other members of the department head cadre, ‘do you feel this is what the council was looking for?’,” Halverson said in reference to the summary. “The amount of information that’s here is extremely well done in terms of its mathematical basis, it’s very representative of internal equity. It has absolutely nothing to do with checks and balances, it has everything to do with creating a pay plan that’s representative of our fiscal challenges that still allows us to equitably treat our employees for a job well done. This is everything we have at our disposal in terms of his work product.”
Not all Council Members agreed with the mayor. Alderman Roger Trzebiatowski said he was under the impression- and he believed other Council Members were as well- that when they hired Carlson Dettmann, they would be supplied with the numbers used in the pay study to determine whether or not the Council should include them to justify a new salary standard for City of Stevens Point workers.
“The problem is those number can be skewed dramatically depending on how you apply them,” Trzebiatowski said. “We don’t know how skewed they are, and I have great concerns about that.”
Another problem comes into play, Trzebiatowski said, when the Council isn’t provided all the information the mayor has at his disposal.
Council Members had previously removed some municipalities from the list of comparables because many said they believed those cities weren’t in any way similar to Stevens Point. But the Council did so without having received a draft of those municipalities showing their equalized value ranking by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
The Council had earlier voted to remove the cities of La Crosse, Eau Claire and De Pere from the list of comparables without any indication by Halverson or Carlson that doing so would lower the average salary benchmark for the city.
“You can remove whatever comparables you like, but I don’t know what that’s going to do to your results. It’s going to change them, that’s for sure,” Carlson said during an October presentation to the Council.
Monday night, they learned they’d inadvertently reduced that average salary benchmark by some $2,000.
“With the removal of those comparables, that’s changed what happened to this pay plan. How we work through that now, I don’t…I can’t convey that easily to those who see similar jobs in other municiaplities that pay more,” Halverson said Monday night.
“I want to go on record to say I don’t wanna hold this up,” Slowinski said, “but did you just state that we dropped down those salaries? So you did get additional numbers we didn’t get to see…?”
“No, no,” Halverson replied. “I had the first draft which I told you we had, and that’s when you said you wouldn’t accept those comparables. We were ready with that pay plan. The pay plan we had before the Personnel Committee decided to change the comparables that we were ready to implement used the same math, but it had Du Pere, La Crosse and Eau Claire in it.”
Alderman Tony Patton said he felt these questions were already answered at previous meetings, and the Council should be supportive of the mayor, the pay study and Carlson Dettman.
“We approved these people to do a study for us and if we don’t accept the findings we either ask for our money back or never use them again,” Patton said. “Either we approve a company and accept their results, and trust they’re giving us the proper data or just do it ourselves next time.”
Patton also suggested some Council Members were allowing their emotions to cloud their judgment regarding the pay plan.
“As mayor, you’re the leader,” Patton said to Halverson. “Some of the alderpersons are being guided by their emotions on this issue. Just because your administration puts together a package, I just think people want to vote against the mayor. There’s a lot of emotions, but we have had an independent study done here.”
Council President Jerry Moore disagreed with Patton, saying emotion has little to do with his vote.
“Our difficulty has been not having the source of numbers to verify what we have in front of us. It’s difficult to see such wide spread differences and answering questions to constituents. It’s very challenging,” Moore said. “I get tired of saying ‘I don’t know, I don’t have that information’, and we still don’t know or have that information. We paid for a study on Mid-State (building) and that came back very nice with all sorts of information, statistics and data in it- that’s a study. What we’ve been getting from this company is not sufficient.”
A majority of the Council agreed the pay plan was a step in the right direction for city workers, and despite concerns the measure passed the Council by a vote of 7-2, with Moore and Trzebiatowski objecting.
“Taking those comparables out, we thought it was the right things because we wanted true comparables,” Moore said. “We have a constituency to be fair to. It’s not my money to give away, it’s the taxpayers’.”