The solar eclipse overshadowed most conversations Monday afternoon, but by Monday night, four members of the Camas City Council had moved on to another hot topic: city employee salaries.
“There are just too many moving parts and too many questions right now,” City Councilwoman Melissa Smith commented at Monday night’s meeting, after she and other councilors grappled with a resolution related to salaries and benefits for the city’s non-represented workers.
At the heart of the issue is an independent review of city employee salaries conducted by the consulting group HR Answers, Inc., earlier this year.
On July 17, the council voted 6-1 to accept the compensation study report and all city staff to use the research as a tool for negotiating with employee unions. Most councilors made it clear in July that their vote was not a blanket approval of the study’s findings, but rather an acceptance that the city had asked for a salary study and had received the consultants’ report. .
Councilmember Don Chaney said in July that he disagreed with approving or even accepting the report.
“I’m still not convinced that it’s time to adopt this,” Chaney said at the July 17 meeting. “The scope of the survey was broader geographically than I expected and included private as well as public employees.”
Included in the report were the current salary benchmarks for 68 city of Camas positions, with recommendations for increasing or decreasing those benchmarks based on the consultant’s research of similar positions and wages in other cities and library systems.
The report shows the city’s recommendations regarding pay scales, which often did not match with the suggestions posed by HR Answers. In fact, some of the salary study rates were very different — for example, while the city’s recommendations for a “Grounds Worker I” position show a slight decrease from the city’s current pay scale, going from $4,047 a month at the lowest pay step to $3,728 and from $4,830 at the highest pay step to $4,465, the consultant’s recommendations would decrease the position’s pay scale even more drastically, reducing the lowest pay scale by $1,111 a month and the highest by $1,314.
Likewise, some of the recommended pay scale increases are much different: While the city’s recommended salary increases for Camas’ “information technology director” would bump that position’s salary up by $598 on the low end and $741 on the high end, the consultants recommended increasing the position’s pay scale by $2,659 on the low end and $3,211 on the high end, bringing the position’s monthly pay in line with the city’s finance director, at $9,697 at the first step and $11,616 at the highest step.
Camas City Administrator Pete Capell told council members in July that city staff has been “very clear with the collective bargaining groups” that the report was to be considered a starting point for negotiations and not something that would be set in stone when it came to determining salary schedules.
On Monday, Capell said city staff are working on a new set of salary comparisons — a set that does not include private industry wages — and hope to have that data to city councilors in early September.
Those numbers could help guide the city councilors’ decision on what to do with the city’s non-represented employee salaries. In July, the council voted to create a 2017 salary scale for non-represented employees with an increase of 2 percent over 2016 wages. The resolution also included hourly wages for seasonal and temporary employees and interns. Some councilors wanted to see the increase be retroactive, going back to January, but Capell said staff had checked with legal counsel and discovered that this would be prohibited by the state as a “gift of public funds.”
Instead, city staff brought forth a resolution on Monday night that would begin compensation levels on Aug. 1 for non-represented employees. The fact that the resolution linked the salary scale start date to the council considering the clarified salary study by Sept. 30, didn’t sit well with some councilors, including Smith and Chaney.
“I do want to get this resolved … and some may think we’re close, but last Monday we got new comps and it keeps changing,” Smith said. “What if we decide to throw out all the comps for (non-represented employees) and stay with the 2-percent increase? There are just too many questions right now.”
Chaney agreed, saying he felt that the resolution’s Sept. 30 deadline for considering the salary study, even a clarified version of the study that took out the private industry data, was too fast.
“I want to have this done by September 30, but I’m not optimistic,” Chaney said.
He added that his main worry concerned the city’s non-union employees being able to recoup any increased wages and benefits that might come from the council’s final decision on non-represented salary scales.
“By giving us that short of notice, we run the risk of not being able to collect whatever we decide to give them,” Chaney said. “My concern is that we’re going to short-change these folks.”
Camas City Attorney Sean MacPherson said the matter could not be open-ended, but that the councilors did not need to approve the salary study by Sept. 30, but simply acknowledge that they had received the clarified report.
“The issue isn’t whether council approves by motion … to adopt a salary schedule,” MacPherson explained Monday. “The issue is whether that salary study (has been) completed, such that you can consider it.”
MacPherson and Capell said the clarified study — the one striking private industry data and comparing Camas employee salaries to workers in five comparable cities — would be completed in September and ready for the councilmembers to consider the report well before Sept. 30.
In light of that information, the four councilors — Chaney, Smith, Bonnie Carter and Steve Hogan — voted to approve the resolution with some slight changes, chiefly that the council will now have until Oct. 3 to consider the revised salary study. That gives the council members three meetings instead of just two to look over and consider the new numbers. They could vote to set new salary scales for non-represented employees or they could choose
Chaney and Smith both said Monday that they believe the councilors have a ways to go before they will make a final decision on the salary study and whether they will decide to use the data to set new salary scales for non-represented employees.
“When we accepted (the salary study) as a tool, it was as a place to start, but there were so many questions,” Smith said. “There are still questions that we need to have answered. We’ve heard a snippet here, a snippet there … but we’ve never come back together and a had a full (council) discussion on the impact.”
Look for this issue to come up again at city council meetings in September. To learn more about the HR Answers’ salary study and to see a full list of the consultants’ recommendations for the 68 city employee positions, visit www.cityofcamas.us and click on the “Minutes, Agendas and Videos” link under the “Your Government” tab. There is video of the July 17 City Council meeting and a link to the report in the July 17 “Meeting Details.”