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City of Wauwatosa strives to set up new pay structure

Dec. 5, 2012

"I won't do a pay study if you tell me I gotta recommend pay cuts," said Charles Carlson. "I will recommend pay freezes."

And, he said, "If you're paying somebody too much, you made the mistake. You gotta live with it."

Carlson, a principal in Madison-based Carlson Dettmann Consulting, gave the city's Employee Relations Committee an outline of his approach to creating a compensation program for city employees who are newly non-represented in the wake of the state's Act 10, which severely limited bargaining rights for public workers.

Carlson, hired by the city for $55,000, has done two previous studies for the city over 25 years. He said his goal was to come up with a consistent, easy-to-manage pay plan, and aims to deliver the final product in April.

Carlson's study would exclude police and firefighters, who retain full bargaining rights. But at the same time, he has to bring together, under one umbrella, workers who had been members of three different unions, along with non-represented employees, many of whom performed a wide variety of tasks.

Creating a pay scale from scratch is a new experience for the city, as it is for municipalities all over the state.

A sound compensation program creates internal equity, is competitive with the private sector, is affordable, supports performance management, and is understandable, Carlson said. He would use market data to make comparisons, and would document the tasks involved in specific jobs with a questionnaire in which each employee participates.

Supervisors and department heads would review the finished questionnaires, and they would be interviewed by Carlson and his staff.

With the city, Carlson said to come up with a formal process for ordering a set of jobs based on the value of the job to the organization, regardless of the performance of the individuals currently holding the jobs.

Through a series of steps, the city would have to answer key policy questions, including: Does the city want to pay high, or medium, or low, compared to the market? And, how does it want to handle pay increases over the years?

Turnover, recruiting, and retirement are all factors that come into play in developing a compensation plan, he said.

Carlson said he was interested in developing a lot of interaction with employees, and setting up regular conduits of communication, such as a forum for frequently asked questions. In response to an employee's question, he said that while he favored transparency, that decision would be made by the city.

In a related manner, the Employee Relations Committee once again discussed a residency requirement for city employees. Some feel the residency requirement, which for many has been waived, has become inconsistent and should be done away with to make it easier to attract more and better candidates.

But others feel that it is not a hardship, and argue that some of the city's best employees have come from within the community.

In a vote on removing residency requirements, the committee vote was 2 to 2, so the motion failed. The issue is likely to return.

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