WM Utility crews may see larger benchmark raises

Department hopes higher pay will increase retention

By John Rech news@theeveningtimes.com

I see your raise and raise you another 10 percent. That may be the case at the West Memphis Utility Department, where workers may receive not only the 3-percent raise recently approved for all city employees, but also a department-exclusive raise based on benchmark wage surveys. If approved by the city council, the raises would effective in January, assuming the council approves the new city budget during the first meeting of 2016. Earlier in the year, two utilities employees approached city council asking for raises, especially for lineman. They cited high turnover and suggested increased pay would increase retention and expertise. That lead the Utilities Commission to unanimously recommended an overall 12-percent raise to City Council. Council members balked at the idea and made a request to the Budget Committee for analysis. Once in committee, Utilities Manager John Rimmer produced a recent pay analysis for utilities workers done in Paragould. He demonstrated a 12-percent overall pay-rate gap to the Budget Committee. He completed a position-by-position comparison and indicated that some employees were already being paid an acceptable amount and would not receive a raise. With cash on hand to fund the pay bumps, Rimmer asked for an immediate raise for the Utility Department, and the Budget Committee took it to City Council. City Council rejected the raise request unanimously, citing the desire for equal raises across the board for all city workers. Later councilors enacted a 3-percent raise effective 2016 citywide, but refereed the utilities matter back to the budget committee for a broader analysis. The Budget Committee then threw down a gauntlet for the further consideration for the department raises and asked Rimmer to work with Human Resources to add Municipal League data to the benchmark analysis before further considerations. After all that, the study showed similar results and with budget proposal time the Utilities Department re-positioned the raise request in the 2016 budget rather than running back through City Council as a stand alone item. City Treasurer Frank Martin told Utility Commissioners at the December meeting that it not only made sense but the pay increase drove saving to the bottom line of the payroll budget. The utilities department used some management tools by consolidating positions and not replacing to attrition creating a net payroll savings to the department. The police and parks departments had used these strategies in previous budget making and the mayor publicly expressed his pleasure with the process. Utility Commissioners saw the changes in the 2016 department budget at the December meeting and approved it sending to the budget committee that passed to city council for upcoming consideration. “We’ve tried to increase everybody’s pay, but we have not increased the payroll budget one penny,” said Rimmer to commissioners. “Actually when you do this budget right here the salaries come out to $32,000 less than last year as we incorporate the 3-percent raise the whole city gets,” added Martin. “We’ve eliminated some positions and some weren’t filled,” said Rimmer. “We took their salaries and put it in a pool. And we tried to take that money and spread it out among everybody else money to do what we tried to do before and bring them up 12 percent in pay. So you see fluctuations in salaries.”


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