All police officers and firefighters in the City of Clinton are poised to receive raises as part of the 2017-18 budget, a proposal that city officials are touting as a way to make annual wages for public safety positions more competitive and aid recruitment and retention of valued employees.
That bump would be in the form of a budgeted $253,600, which includes salaries and benefits. On average, that would translate into an increase of 12 percent for police officers ($170,000 total) and 8 percent for firefighters (roughly $70,000). The balance will be used for two reclassified Public Works positions.
“Ultimately, we are making sure our public safety positions are in line with other departments so that we remain competitive in recruiting and retaining the people we need to take care of our community,” City manager Shawn Purvis stated.
The proposal comes on the heels of a Classification and Compensation Study recently conducted by the MAPS Group. The purpose of the study was to ensure the city is able to recruit and retain employees by evaluating market competitiveness and internal equity concerns such as compression, which occurs when newly hired employees receive the same or similar compensation as more tenured employees.
The topic was discussed during a budget workshop Tuesday night, which included the City Council, city managerial staff and department heads. Purvis walked the Council through the highlights of the 2017-18 budget proposal, keying in on the additional funds for personnel. The issue was broached in a similar workshop last month.
“Do you feel like we’re going to be in a better position to hire better-quality people?” Councilman Steve Stefanovich asked Chief Jay Tilley during Tuesday’s session.
“Not only are we going to compete regionally, I hope we stand a better chance at keeping the ones we’ve got that I really like,” Tilley remarked. “Regionally, I think we stand a much better chance. It’s going to make it hard for some of our folks to leave.”
Tilley said in recent years, the Clinton Police Department has found it increasingly difficult to compete not just with other police departments in the region regarding compensation, but with state agencies, such as community colleges and others.
Currently, Clinton police officers who have graduated BLET (Basic Law Enforcement Training) start at around $30,000 a year. After a probationary period, that goes up to between $31,500 and $32,000. With the proposed increase, that starting salary will be in the range of $35,000 to $36,000.
“Raleigh is at $40,000. We’re not competing with Raleigh, but if you start looking at small towns, we’re in great shape,” Tilley stated. “We have a niche in small towns, and that’s what we’re going to go out and recruit.”
Purvis said Clinton’s culture of community policing and its CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies) status also make it attractive. On the flipside, Purvis pointed out, Clinton has lost officers to places like Elizabethtown, which are much smaller, which city officials chalked up to the salary discrepancy.
Tilley went further, noting that Clinton’s police equipment was “so far ahead of the game,” even when compared to much bigger cities.
“Just the equipment and training alone, you put my officer and my car up beside Fayetteville and Raleigh or anybody else, our equipment is as good or better then theirs and we train until it hurts. It’s nothing for our guys to get 150 hours a year of training. That’s very attractive to a candidate,” Tilley asserted, noting salary seemed to be the weak link.
“I think this will help us tremendously in getting there,” he said of the proposed hike.
Fire Chief Scott Phillips concurred, echoing Tilley’s optimism on the prospect of retaining current employees.
“It’s going to make it hard for my guys to leave,” said Phillips, noting Clinton’s starting salary for firefighters was less than it was for new police officers. “My primary firefighter coming in is $29,000 to $30,000 and now it will be $34,000 to $35,000. We’re very competitive now. We’ll never compete with the Carys, the Raleighs … but this does make it harder to go there because you have to drive to work and we’re close. We’re very competitive.”
Of the $253,600 budgeted, $235,000 would go to the personnel with the fire and police departments.
Additionally, the two Public Works positions would make up about $5,000 to $6,000 apiece with benefits, as they would be promotions for current employees to two new positions — streets supervisor and sanitation supervisor. Purvis said the goal was to encompass the duties of longtime Public Works manager Tony Steffen, who retired last year, without having to fill that position again. Purvis said the sanitation and streets divisions were realigned upon his departure, with a supervisor added within each on an interim basis.
“It has run very well,” said Purvis. “With (the two positions), we will not fill the Public Works manager position, so that is a savings of about $65,000 a year.”
Factoring in the additional salaries, it will be about $45,000 to $50,000 in net savings.
Raises for others?
Purvis recommended that the Council consider implementing the study’s structure and salary recommendations over a two-year period, including other employees in year two.
“Because of the clear discrepancy in the city’s public safety compensation and the market, adjustments to public safety positions would occur during year one along with a few other necessary position changes,” Purvis stated in a memo to Council earlier this month.
For the coming 2017-18 budget year, the recommended annual adjustment would be 1.5 percent for cost of living and an additional half percent for merit up to another 1.5 percent for all employees.
The city last conducted a classification and compensation study from 2009-11. That study was phased over three years with labor and trades positions evaluated in 2009, public safety in 2010 and professional and support positions in 2011.
“The labor and trades positions received the greatest number of changes in order to bring the classification structure in line with the market,” Purvis stated. “All other positions received nominal to no adjustments based on the market at the time, and the city attempted to address compression concerns as a result.”
Since 2013, the city has provided increases based on a hybrid market and merit system.
The city manager presents a formula each year with the cost of living or market portion based on inflation per the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and then an additional percentage for merit based on an employee’s performance evaluation. The CPI indicated an inflation rate of 2 percent for 2016 and recommended merit intervals were at a half percent.
“As a service-based organization, the city’s primary costs are personnel related,” Purvis stated. “Ensuring excellent service delivery requires recruitment, development and retention of competent team members.”
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