Pay Plan Returns to Chagrin, Confusion of Council
Aldermen Michael O’Meara (left) and Jerry Moore. (City-Times photo)
“This entire process, from the beginning, has been a debacle, to the say the least.” -Alderman Randy Stroik
By Brandi Makuski
After more than a year of debate, the Stevens Point city pay plan remains unfinished after weeks of finger-pointing and blistering remarks between Mayor Andrew Halverson and the Common Council.
The matrix for figuring steps and grades for city employees was created by Madison-based consulting firm Carlson Dettman and was supposed to place city employees into pay grades comparable to other municipalities, improving retention and keeping the city competitive throughout the state. Nearly 50 employees appealed their placement within the new pay plan, with 10 appeals making it to the full Council for reconsideration, but less than half a dozen were reversed.
Council Members have for nearly 18 months argued the process used in creating the new pay plan, which they say is too secretive. Last year the council agreed to include grade placements and salaries from both public and private entities from comparable cities to determine a state average. Earlier this year Alderman Michael O’Meara made a none-too-subtle threat of legal action against Calrson Dettmann, arguing as Council Members should be privy to the origin of data collection by Charlie Carlson. O’Meara said he made several open records requests for the information to no avail, then suggesting the city consider a lawsuit against the company. In May Halverson told the Council that Carlson decided to stop working for the city.
In a May 9th memo to the Council, Halverson broke the news.
“I have had conversations with Charlie Carlson, and he has indicated given the continued specter of possible legal action, either directly or indirectly from the city, he will no longer be working with us,” Halverson wrote in the memo. Halverson later told the City-Times it was his decision- not Carlson’s- for the company to “back off until things cooled down on the Council”.
Then there was the list of comparables. The council took several weeks debating which cities should be included as a comparable, arguing some cities weren’t similar to Stevens Point due to size or equalized value. That issue still hasn’t been settled, pitting Halverson- who has requested changes to the list of cities more than once- against the Council, which voted down his last request to revisit the list of comparable cities July.
Alderman Randy Stroik has been openly unhappy with the entire pay plan process, called it “a debacle, to say the least,” but also admits it’s a confusing situation, often referring on Halverson for reassurance of the plan. In July Stroik asked Halverson to clarify if the pay plan, once approved, would be a document the city could be proud of. Halverson answered with a resounding “no”, saying the Council has stalled for so long the current averages are no longer accurate.
“The averages are wrong; they’re not reflective of a broad enough stretch of the state, from a recruitment and retention point of view,” Halverson said in July. “The core of the work that was done by the consultant is correct for the parameters set for him by this Council. Am I proud of the way this process has unfolded? No- I think it’s an absolute embarrassment.”
Halverson also said he believes individual council members have been influenced by the union workers in the city, which he said “made a ridiculous mockery of this particular process”.
“I think the Common Council has trivialized this entire process, and I think it’s inevitable the pay plan will never be respected because of that,” he said. “I think the only way you’re going to get around that is to scrap this and spend another $30,000 on (a pay plan) that seemingly, someone, somewhere will believe is more appropriate than this one, and it’s pretty obvious, based on the forces that are in play, that you’ll never get to that point anyway. We passed that many, many months ago, and now future councils and future mayors will have to deal with it.”
Today that $30,000 the mayor referenced will cost the city $5,600. Halverson said that’s how much it will cost to get new numbers from Carlson, and that’s a decision facing the Council on Monday night.
“As we have made very clear all along, the research we’ve seen, the averages in play with these steps are way off based on the comparables,” Halverson said on Thursday. “We are uncomfortable with that moving forward; that’s the element of the pay plan that still, in my opinion, has to be addressed.”
Halverson said the city has taken so long to agree on any element of the new pay plan that all the in-formation included within it is no longer viable. “Even the standard comparables that are in our pay plan today have already implemented new pay plans. So the data we have in the current matrix is so out of date it’s almost use- less,” he said. A new matrix, he said is the only way the city can properly determine how much to pay employees based on fair market value of each grade and step- and it needs to be done now, he said, because 2015 budget talks are just around the corner.
“Well, they (the Council) really don’t have many choices because the danger here is, we’re using a matrix now that is not accurate. It has to be changed no matter what, but the Council has to pay the money to run the new matrix.”
Halverson said he did not know how much this would cost the city in the long run. Comptroller-Treasurer Corey Ladick said there’s no way to guess, either.
“It’s not the kind of thing you can guess at,” Ladick said. “But next year is already looking very tight. I think we have to really consider how we can afford a new pay plan in the long- term.” Ladick said if the city would move ahead on the new matrix, it would be a waste of money if the new average salaries weren’t implemented.
“But this all depends on what the Council will do, on whether or not they’re had a change of heart,” Ladick said, adding he has had zero input on the entire pay plan process. Ladick would not comment as to which way he thought the council should vote.
“It’s hard to make a guess at what those numbers are going to be without having a new matrix, but I can tell you we do have some budget challenges coming up this year,” he said. “It’s still early in the budget process, but right now we do have a budget hole we’re trying to fill.”
Council Members on Thursday were surprised by the news of having to consider a new matrix- and they’re not looking forward to the hearing the same arguments over again.
“I don’t see where we’re going to get the money for it,” said Alderman Jerry Moore. “It’s not just the $5,600-this is not just a one-time deal. Every year w’re going to have to come up with the money from the city.”
“My question would be- why?” Said Alderman Roger Trzebiatowski. “We’ve already been through this for the past year, 18 months- why are we going through this again? I’m not sure what motivation for doing this now is.”
The Council meets Monday, Aug. 18 at the courthouse at 6:20 PM. The meeting is open to the public.