SALISBURY — After agreeing to a pay grade adjustment for city police officers last month, the Salisbury City Council brainstormed questions Monday that need to be answered before considering a salary bump for all general employees.
Since the issue surfaced, council members have been consistent in saying they would unanimously like to grant all employees a salary increase such as the one recently given to police officers; however, it is dependent on making sure that the numbers crunch.
“What are the questions that we need to arrive at?” asked Council President Terry Cohen during Monday’s work session.
The council was able to quickly generate a short list of what is believed to be the most important factors to consider in justifying a pay adjustment.
“If we have compensation that is not competitive, we need to know … The thing I want to know most is whether or not the pay scales for our positions are competitive, and are our benefits competitive,” said Councilwoman Debbie Campbell.
Campbell reasoned that if rates aren’t appealing when compared to nearby municipalities, Salisbury is digging itself a hole that would be tough to get out of in the future and could have “expensive consequences.” In the interest of comparing rates, Campbell suggested that a salary study be conducted, similar to processes the city has done in the past.
But Councilwoman Laura Mitchell worried that such a study would be an unnecessary expense. Instead, she advocated having department heads do much of their own research, such as Salisbury Police Department (SPD) Chief Barbara Duncan did while assembling her own pitch for pay adjustment in her organization.
“I’d like to see us approach it much the same way the police department did … take that same protocol, I guess, and apply that city wide,” said Mitchell.
However, Campbell argued that relying on each department to do everything in-house could result in a huge expenditure of man hours that could have been used more productively at work. Also, salary studies tend to lay things out in an organized and efficient manner, said Campbell, since it would be done by professionals.
Mitchell remained skeptical, telling the council that she has been less than impressed with some prior studies.
“What I got out of it wasn’t very useful,” she said.
Mayor Jim Ireton recommended that, if the council wishes to have such a survey conducted, sooner is better than later.
“We would want to start that process now, not wait until budget time next year,” he said.
Besides a study, the council wants to look into some budget data for the last several years, included which funds are encumbered versus unencumbered. There was also a decision to research matters like whether services were cut during furlough periods and the effect frozen positions are having on individual department’s productivity.
One final area that Campbell asked be accounted for is the possibility that some workers are leaving for less traditional reasons than a raise.
“It’s not always pay,” she said.
The council’s willingness to explore the possibility of a general raise will come as welcome news to most city employees, many of whom filled a crowded council chamber in September to lobby for the same treatment as police officers.
Several members and supporters of Salisbury’s Public Works Department argued their case at that time, claiming that all city employees are under constant temptation to accept more lucrative positions in other areas.
“Public Works Department is also losing workers at an alarming rate to nearby cities and counties across the state,” said Buddy Brooks of Maryland Jaycees last month. “There are also 65 percent of city employees have second jobs, it’s not that they want to work themselves to death it is just the fact of the matter.”
During the same council meeting, Public Works engineer Jana Potvin asserted that, while it was obvious SPD was struggling to retain officers, the situation was familiar across the board.
“I don’t doubt that the police department is doing more for less; all city employees are doing more for less,” she said. “It angers me that the mayor, the city administrator, and the council are here to support an increase for select city employees any more than the rest of us.”
According to numbers provided by Ireton, an across the board 2-percent raise for non-police employees would cost Salisbury $281,607 annually, while including police in that raise would bump that up to $404,904.
As of last week, the SPD has been approved for its pay adjustment, totaling $488,000 and effecting 88 out of 92 officers. The adjustment is annual and a full year will cost $698,706, according to Ireton.