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City workers to get modest raises in 2012

Pay-for-performance plan to be created

Dec. 21, 2011

Half the city's employees will start the new year with a 1 percent raise and another 1 percent raise will follow come July. However, there's still some more money available that could go toward rewarding outstanding performance and productivity improvements.

The Common Council on Tuesday voted, 12-2, to give the cost-of-living raises to employees outside the police and fire unions. Police and fire supervisors also are not included in the measure. Those employees are being given wage adjustments based on negotiated agreements.

Aldermen Peter Donegan and Jacqueline Jay were opposed to Tuesday's decision because they wanted to hold off on committing to the July raise until city administrators bring back a detailed performance-based pay plan.

Rewarding bright ideas

Personnel costs account for the vast majority of the operating budget. The city needs to find innovative ways to reduce its expenses - and continuing to require larger health insurance and pension contributions each year is not the way to go, Donegan said in an interview prior to the meeting.

"There's a large opportunity for productivity improvement in our work force," he said.

Donegan wants the city to focus on a compensation program that rewards employees who come up with ideas that lead to a more efficient workplace. That could mean adopting new technologies or procedures that allow fewer people to do more work or, perhaps, bringing some of the services currently outsourced such as engineering design and recycling collection in house.

"It could mean less people or the same people taking on more work," he said.

Donegan told his fellow aldermen he would like to see employees bring forth more cost-savings initiatives next year, and employees could be rewarded from the money that comes in under budget.

In the past, collective bargaining prevented city administrators from making many changes that would impact workplace productivity, Donegan said. Across the board raises have been the norm. He wants to see pay raises tied to merit. He wanted to put off the July raise and combine it with an additional half percent available to have incentive money to tie to a performance pay plan in the second half of next year.

Too serious to rush

Other council members disagreed, wanting to give employees a full picture of what their compensation would look like for the year. The city has budgeted for the raises and the increases are not out of line with the cost-of-living adjustments provided in the state budget-repair bill, Jill Organ said.

Alderman Bobby Pantuso said his experience with private employers creating performance pay plans is that it's not an easy process because compensation carries emotional ties for people. Therefore, it shouldn't be rushed.

"We have one shot to get this right," he said. "It won't be an easy task."

The city administered a merit pay system for nonrepresented employees in the past and "it failed miserably," Police Chief Barry Weber said. Pay was based on who employees got along with, making it discriminatory.

"People will be suspicious," he said.

While used in the private sector for years, performance pay is pretty unheard of in local government, so there's really no specific plan to draw from, City Administrator James Archambo said. But that doesn't mean it can't be done.

The key will be setting specific goals and objectives that fit each work group and getting department managers involved in setting the bar, Archambo said.

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