OCEAN CITY – Government officials historically receive excellent benefits as part of a motivation to work in the public realm, but the question remains if local government salaries have started to mirror, or even exceed, those in the private sector.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas got her wish this week as she was granted her request for access to the benefits package and “perks” enjoyed by the town’s employees, but the list did not uncover anything that wasn’t expected.
After the release of the top 100 salaries for the town of Ocean City last month, a new list was compiled by town officials citing not only the benefits packages of the town’s “century list”, but also pointed out the years of service as per Council President Joe Mitrecic’s request, and the amount of hours and cost to prepare such a request, as per Councilwoman Mary Knight’s plea.
In an effort that took town officials a total of 52 hours and $2,100 in payroll expenses to prepare, the list shows what many people already either assumed or knew as fact: that the benefits package for town employees is a very good one.
City Manager Dennis Dare said that the benefits that are granted to town employees are on the level of other jurisdictions, as are the salaries.
“We need to be competitive with what is being offered to employees in areas outside of Delmarva,” said Dare. “Tourism, historically, is one of the lowest paying industries, and in order to get good people to come and work for us, we need to reach out and compete regionally in order to get those quality people, even though Ocean City is a nice place to work in.”
A crunch of the benefit package numbers shows that it adds about 20-25 percent in value to each salary, which is comparable to other markets, according to Dare. After 26 years of service to the town of Ocean City, Dare has found himself working to balance the toughest budget that he has ever faced, while getting his salary frozen, and most recently having the amount of money ($170,814 gross in 2008) that he makes for doing his job questioned.
“I don’t know what most city manager’s make, but I know that there are some that work in towns with far less people and staff who make just as much as I do, so I think my salary is very fair for 26 years of service to Ocean City,” said Dare. “I’m not ashamed of my salary nor am I ashamed of what I pay anyone on my staff.”
Some department heads and other town employees got a big salary increase several years ago after the findings of the 2000 Hendricks Study was revisited and followed. In addition to that, President Joe Mitrecic said that the collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police has been another reason that local government salaries have started to resemble salaries enjoyed by those in large corporations in the private sector.
“There was a time in Ocean City, where we were trying to attract ‘can-do’ people, and in order to retain those people, you have to pay them comparable to what they could be making somewhere else,” said Mitrecic.
The council president conceded that it could be true that local government salaries more closely resemble those in the private sector, but he said that’s nothing new in this day and age.
“That might be a fact, but I know that’s not just for Ocean City,” he said. “When we revisited the study four or five years ago, we found that we were actually underpaying some of our employees and we made the adjustment.”
Dare explained that the Hendricks study, which was approved by City Council in 2000 with a 5-0 vote (with Glenn Steckman and Vince Gisriel abstaining), found a way to balance the “internal equity of our municipality and use that to improve our external equity” by using a grading system to rate each job and its value.
As with the collective bargaining agreement with the FOP, Dare said that each side chose five comparable markets and came up with a number based on those markets.
Mitrecic, who was a part of that collective bargaining process, said that is how the salaries and benefits were determined.
Councilwoman Mary Knight said that a good benefits package used to be the main reason why people chose to work for government.
“People choose government positions because there is a security there, and oftentimes, they are lifetime positions. It’s true, some government jobs are starting to make the same high pay as those in the private sector, but what isn’t taken into consideration here is the commitment and the loyalty of our governmental workers,” she said.
It should be noted that the top 10 people that make the most money in Ocean City have a combined tenure of 188 years of service for the town.
Still, Pillas feels that the benefits and the salaries of town employees should be looked at a little more closely.
“I think it’s good that we have frozen the salaries, and I think we should maintain that, because I feel like some of the benefits enjoyed are beyond the call of duty,” she said.
Dare defended the post Hendricks study salary increases saying, “there was a bit of a snowball effect, but if you look at the internal vs. the external equity that it created, the numbers are not nearly as drastic.”