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Council waiting on wage reviews; Some fear move could affect employee morale, retention

Recent concerns over city employee morale and retention has divided the Austin City Council on how to proceed with reviewing the wages on non-union city employees.

In a narrow four-to-three vote during a work session earlier this week, the City Council voted to wait for the release of a compensation and classification study before reviewing wages.

Those that voted against waiting are concerned about losing employees.

“We have to be competitive with other cities or we can lose employees to other cities,” said Councilman David Hagen, one of the dissenting votes. “It has already happened.”

Councilman Steve King agrees that the city runs the risk of losing employees, but he felt the council should wait for the study before taking action.

“I think that doing it one employee at a time doesn’t seem manageable or appropriate, and we need to be more systematic with our approach,” he said. “I think that since we voted on the study a few weeks ago, we should allow the process to go forward and be more strategic and uniform about it.”

The council voted March 6 to complete a compensation and classification study, while also reviewing non-union employee salaries before the study.

City Administrator Craig Clark stated an outside consultant will conduct the study, which is slated to proceed in late summer/early fall and could take eight to 12 months.

“The purpose of the study is to ensure internal consistency and see how Austin compares to other communities in regards to market compensation,” he said.

Prior to Monday’s work session, the council had discussed possibly reviewing one or two non-union employee positions a month. The discussion was scheduled to continue during Monday night’s work session, but was removed from the schedule at the last minute.

Council Member Jeff Austin brought up the matter during the open discussion segment of the Monday work session, prompting the vote.

Austin hasn’t completed a full compensation study since the early 1990s, though it has often been discussed.

The latest discussions sparked after Police Chief Brian Krueger brought data to the council comparing his and Capt. David McKichan’s salaries to similar positions in other cities. The data showed the salary of the chief and captain were about $6,000 and $5,000 less than other cities, respectively.

In March, the council voted to raise Krueger and McKichan’s salaries by four percent.

For Hagen, that is incentive to continue in that process.

“Since we set a precedent [with the police chief and police captain positions], we should take a look at non-union employees and see where we should go,” he said.

King, however, disagrees, preferring to wait until the study is complete.

“In the defense of the council, we gave [Chief] Krueger and [Capt.] McKichan a pay bump before we voted on the compensation study,” he said. “If you review one position, then someone else can say, ‘Well, what about me?’ It sends the wrong message.”

Despite their positions, Hagen and King understand the position’s of the other.

“I think [the study] needs to be done so we have that information available for the future,” Hagen said. “There is no easy right or wrong answer.”

“I’m not anti-employee by any mean,” King said. “There really is no good way out of this.”

Austin’s compensation and classification study will primarily focus on the following factors:

•Job classification: The study will review the job duties and responsibilities to classify accordingly. Factors include the position’s objective, necessary education/experience, and degree of supervision among other things.

•Job evaluation and pay equity: Once the position has been classified, the city is responsible for assigning a point value to the position that determines the pay for that job. Under Minnesota law, cities are required to ensure pay structures for similar valued work are equal regardless of gender; therefore, the city must review the job classifications to determine if they are “male-dominated,” “female-dominated,” or “balanced” to ensure equity.

•Market comparisons: The city must compare the job classes to those in the market. Usually, these comparisons are made against other cities of similar size, thereby allowing the city to develop a salary range. For this study, Austin will be compared to cities like Albert Lea, Faribault and Owatonna.