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By MARK EVANS
STE. GENEVIEVE HERALD
Lively debate took place on how important employee benefits are in attracting and keeping employees and on the desirability of having a single trash hauler for the city during the Ste. Genevieve Board of Aldermen’s work session last Thursday night.
Of the one-hour, six-minute work session, 52 minutes were spent on those two topics – just two of the five items on the work session agenda.
Earlier in the summer, the city’s long-awaited salary study was presented by C-BIZ. The board requested that revised study be brought back that looked at flat raises versus cost of living adjustments (COLA). C-BIZ revised its study to include this.
The study showed minimum, midpoint and maximum salaries for various offices in similar cities. For instance, for city administrator the minimum salary was $79,121, the midpoint was $94,945 and the maximum was $110,769, while tourism marketing director’s figures were $53,216, $63,859 and $74,502.
The recommendations given to the board included that all employees at least be brought up to the minimum figure for their positions, and made a handful of other recommendations.
Some disappointment had been expressed in May that the study only compared salaries and did not take benefit packages into consideration.
That same issue surfaced Thursday night.
City Administrator Happy Welch noted that Ste. Genevieve’s average base salary is 93.2% of the medium or 50th percentile figure for the surveyed cities. In other words, Ste. Genevieve is paying 6.8% less that other comparable cities, on the average. Of the 18 employees included in the study, five rate below the minimum figure and seven are below their proposed step rate.
The initial cost to implement the new staff structure would be about $11,809, or $15,850, including the police department.
Welch said “a sizeable mount” has been put back for increased salaries for the upcoming budget process.
At one point, Ward 4 Alderman Mike Raney asked Welch whether he could “make it work” to bring the salaries up to the recommended levels, within his budget.
Ward 2 Alderman Bob Donovan countered that “It’s still hard to spend money unless you what money you have to spend.”
Raney asked about the possibility of getting part-way to the recommended levels for the 2024 budget and the rest of the way there by 2025.
Ward 2 Alderman Eric Bennett agreed that they needed to see where they were financially.
“I don’t want to write a check that bounces,” Donovan said.
Bennett said things are getting more competitive among agencies for good employees.
“I would be opposed to stepping this in,” he said. “If we’re going to do it and we have the money to do it, we should do it. I would never regret giving our employees a raise that makes them more comfortable and relieves their stress. Because we’re going to get better performances at work.”
Donovan noted that the 8.7% cost of living increase figure has morphed into 3%
“That was last year,” Welch said. “This year it’s down.”
Donovan asked what the timeline was. Welch said it would be for the coming budget year.
BENEFIT PACKAGE VS. STRAIGHT SALARY
The importance of benefit packages again came up.
Former Ward 3 and 4 Alderwoman Ashley Armbruster said that if the C-BIZ recommendations are up to date, then why would a COLA be added to current salary figures.
“Every year, when it cane time for budget we had this conversation and we didn’t like the answers,” she said. “You have the data here, if you’re willing to read it.”
“We don’t necessarily,” Ward 3 Alderman Joe Steiger said. “These were just base salaries. They didn’t include benefits. I feel like we kind of got shortchanged with the study we had. “
“I still contend that the whole package is important,” he said. “To certain age groups, to certain younger age groups, it isn’t I didn’t know how to balance that out.”
“We’re still comparing apples to apples,” Mayor Brian Keim said.
“You might offer this vacation package and it comes out to this number, but this company over here that you’re trying to compare numbers to, they might have other leniencies in their company, so their vacation might not be on par with what you’re offering. The numbers aren’t going to line up because you don’t know what else makes that person want to work at that job. The number that you can compare is a salary. Everything else … health insurance to some degree, but me as a 30-something single person … I have my health, I don’t have to think as hard bout my health insurance as another person. So, sitting here, trying to quantify that against another business, that’s for the employee to decide.”
“I just disagree,” Steiger said. “I think the benefit package is really important for a lot of the employees, and we have a good benefit package.”
“The current employees,” Armbruster said. “But, how do you make this, working at city hall, something that people want to do? In the next several years, you could potentially have several retirees. How are you going to get people that want to work here and aren’t constantly revolving in that position? Because we see it in some of our positions that have come open in recent years.”
She noted that the salary study had been intended “to take out a lot of that thinking and arguing.” Instead, she said, “It’s being made way more complicated by looking at the benefit package. The city offers a decent benefit package, but this company might be better and that company might be worse. Only you as a board can quantify what the value of the benefit is.”
Later, Bennett said that, “The city offered a decent benefit package a few years ago, but it was taken away last year. “
He also said that for the city employees, it is harder to judge merit than it would be in a factory, where production numbers could be sued.
“You either follow policy or you don’t follow policy, he said. “If you’re not followi8ng policy, then there’s disciplinary action. But how do you reward somebody for follow8ng policy better than they’re supposed to. You either do or you don’t. I’ve never liked the merit-based system for our line of work. Like I said, if we worked for Pepsi you’re supposed to make 100 bottles an hour ad you make 200, then we can quantify that. If we make 75 bottles an hour, then you can measure that against their merit. But for us, we have a policy in place. You follow the policy; you either drive safely, you don’t get complaints, or whatever the case may be, or you don’t. And if you don’t, were handling that with disciplinary action.”
He said the city lacked “a good system for measuring that merit.
Donovan countered that department heads can give the needed feedback in how well employees are carrying out their tasks.
Donovan, who manages County Home Center, also weighed in on the salary versus benefits argument.
“I do get to interview people personally, myself,” he said. “You interview a younger person, all they want to know is what’s the rate of pay. They could care less. But if you’re talking about somebody who’s up in age – 40 years old, somewhere, a different group than a 20-year-old, the first thing they ask is, ‘What is the package?’ That package is important; it’s important to them and it’s important to the city … and how do you not weigh in costs?”
He asked why long-time employees have stayed with the city.
“They’ve stuck here because it’s a decent place to work with a decent package,” he said.
Welch said he would soon be advertising for a tourism director – unless the decision is made to go with an advertising agency.
“If I go out for a tourism director, I at least have a bottom-line salary that I can set out there for people to see and see if they’re interested or not,” he said.
Welch said he would come back with additional figures with the recommended increases both with and without a 3% COLA increase.
A review of the trash-hauling debate and the discussion on fire tag prices will appear in next week’s Herald.