Monday, July 28, 2014

County embraces compensation study findings

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 7/15/2013

Franklin County Board of Commissioners decided Wednesday morning to implement suggestions from The Austin Peters Group, Inc. as it related to the findings of its recent compensation study.

The study looked at all Franklin County departments’ job descriptions and pay ranges and how they compared to the same jobs in other markets, Lisa Johnson, Franklin County administrator and counselor, said.

Franklin County Board of Commissioners decided Wednesday morning to implement suggestions from The Austin Peters Group, Inc. as it related to the findings of its recent compensation study.

The study looked at all Franklin County departments’ job descriptions and pay ranges and how they compared to the same jobs in other markets, Lisa Johnson, Franklin County administrator and counselor, said.

“It was a market analysis to look at [the county departments] current ranges of pay as they related to each position to see if they were appropriate and to make sure the positions were accurately reflecting what the people were doing and then to make a recommendation to the commission,” she said. “We got a lot of good information back.”

The study was important, she said, in order for the county to stay competitive in the job market as well as for retaining employees.

“We hadn’t readjusted or re-evaluated our classification plan in about seven years,” Johnson said. “It needed to be brought up to date ,and we needed to get our job descriptions reviewed and brought up to date. And we don’t have enough staffing to do that ourselves, and I felt bringing a third party in gave [the study] objectivity.”

The study was conducted over several months, and The Austin Peters Group looked at several factors in conducting its research, Johnson said.

The process consisted of interviewing all employees and managers, ranking positions based on factors such as decision making, physical skills and working conditions, getting clarification with department heads, collecting salary and benefit data, pay range development and the opportunity to meet with county commissioners, according to the study.

In the wake of its findings, The Austin Peters Group reported back to county commissioners, department heads and employees of their findings and recommendations, Johnson said.

“Austin Peters is recommending a two-year plan,” she said. “We asked for a phased approach to be implemented and they’re recommending for the 2014 budget year the county budget for and provide compression pay.”

The study found that, “currently there is pay compression among employees and employees are farther back in the range than would anticipate, given their time with the county.”

Pay compression occurs when newly hired employees are brought in at the same wage as existing employees or the organization goes for a time period without pay adjustments, the study said.

Austin Peters suggested the county implement two phases, Johnson said.

“The compensation study provided by Austin Peters proposed that for the market adjustments, the wages be done in a two-year cycle,” she said. “The first year was to make adjustments in employees’ wages for compression pay, the second year was to implement new [pay] ranges for the county pay classification plan for county positions.”

The pay compression adjustment affects all but 24 county employees with an average adjustment of $0.35 per hour with the total cost for pay compression adjustments coming to $231,500.99, the study said. For 2015, the group suggested that county employees below the recommended range minimum be brought up to the range minimum after the pay compression is completed, according to the group. The cost for this step of the process is $108,543.62 to implement new ranges. Both numbers, Johnson said, were accurate as of June 10, since the numbers will continue to change when the number of employees increases and decreases.

The Austin Peters Group also recommended elected officials receive a minimum of a 2 percent adjustment to their base pay. This was the only recommendation county commissioners disagreed with, Colton Waymire, county commissioner, said.

“Our thinking was that if the study says [elected officials] were already more than fairly [paid] or above their peers, we’ll forgo that this year,” Waymire said.

Only those elected officials making less than market value will receive the 2 percent increase in base pay, Waymire said.

“The point was to bring everybody in line,” he said. “If [elected officials] were already ahead, we didn’t want to exacerbate that I guess.”

The study findings — and the county commissioners move to implement the group’s suggestions — gives county department heads time to readjust their budgets for 2014 to accommodate the changes in salary, Johnson said.

“The personnel figures proposed in the 2014 budgets will include the compression pay as proposed by The Austin Peters study,” Johnson said. “Based on what the commission indicated at the study session, we revised everything so anybody that came [to the open house budget forum] would see the figures that would be in the published budget.”

The cost to taxpayers to implement the study’s findings are not directly related to how and what causes the mill levy to increase, Johnson said.

“The [study implementation] increases the tax rate by .5 mills to implement this,” she said. “Now that’s not a direct correlation between the increases in the tax rate and the amount. The taxes in terms of the amount half of a mill raises, is right around $100,000. But as far as the tax rate from this year [2013] to next year raises approximately half of a mill — so a 1 percent increase to fund this.”

Since the study indicated some county employees’ salaries were already at market value, the implementation won’t effect all employees, Johnson said.

“[Employees] will all get an individualized letter,” she said. “In terms of each individual employee knowing exactly how it affects them, they’ll be getting that information in the next couple weeks.”

The goal of the study was to have employee compensation reach a certain percentile in the market, Johnson said.

“We aimed for 60 percent of the market,” she said. “Which means that four out of 10 employers will pay better than us and six out of 10 wouldn’t.”

When the county sought the help of Austin Peters it was to help the county figure out how to stay competitive in the job market, she said.

“If you look across the board at the positions that get the most money, most of those are in the lower range of the pay scale,” Johnson said. “We could tell by job turnover that’s where our problem was really at.”

County commissioners had the option to not implement the suggestions from Austin Peters, Johnson said. Much of it depended on whether or not there was room in the budget for the compensation implementation.

“It [was] going to come down to what can they afford to do,” she said. “But at one point it becomes what can you afford not to do because you have to be competitive and you have to compensate your employees for what they’re doing.”

Commissioner Waymire agreed, saying “the idea [of the study implementation] was to basically give the employees a fair wage for an honest day’s work.”

Going forward, more adjustments will be implemented, Johnson said, like the new pay classification that will go into effect in 2015 after the compression pay has been implemented in 2014.

“After [2015] Austin Peters will send out an email letting us know based on inflationary factors in our market that ‘here’s the percentage we’re seeing increase,’” she said. “Or not, if there isn’t [an increase].”

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