Study faults Warner Robins pay scale

chwright@macon.comJuly 26, 2011 

WARNER ROBINS -- City employees are largely underpaid, according to a pay scale study that states it would cost the city between about $337,000 and $1.43 million to rightfully compensate their workers.

The study, completed this year by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, shows the most underpaid employees tend to be lower on the employment ladder, and salaries vary widely even within the same positions.

Mayor Chuck Shaheen said he is pushing to implement one of the study’s six recommended pay scales by 2014, though he has not yet located all of the funds.

“The benefit of having a good quality of pay is it’ll give (employees) more incentive to stay and to perform well,” Shaheen said.

Shaheen said salaries fluctuate widely and are inadequate because of years without a review.

Bryan Fobbus, the city’s human resources director, said Warner Robins last implemented a review in the late 1980s, though one also was provided to the city in 1991.

“It’s all about leadership,” Shaheen said. “This leadership is going to correct this and do the right thing.”

The most underpaid employee is an administrative secretary in the recreation department, according to the study. He earns about $15,600 a year.

The other administrative secretary in the same department -- who took the job six months after her counterpart -- earns about $2,100 more a year.

Researchers graded each employee’s job based on 10 weighted factors, including required knowledge, physical demands and work environment, according to the study.

They then compared the salaries Warner Robins employees earn to similar positions in surrounding cities and counties.

The researchers proposed six salary plans. The most expensive would cost the city $651,165 more in payroll costs -- a 3.72 percent increase of the current payroll -- plus an optional $781,840 in a one-time equity adjustment, which is based on how long the employee has been with the city.

“The plan is based on a scale that should prove to be the most competitive in attracting and retaining a quality workforce,” the study stated.

The least expensive plan would cost $336,654 more in payroll costs -- a 1.92 percent increase of the current payroll -- plus an optional $490,025 in a one-time equity adjustment.

Shaheen said he has not determined yet which plan he would push for City Council to approve, but he has located some of the funding.

He said he wants to pass more recommendations from an insurance coverage study that could save the city money. The savings could be redirected for salaries.

However, members of the insurance committee -- made up of employees from various city departments -- shot down 10 of those 12 suggestions in May. The rejected ideas included a spousal surcharge and higher deductions.

Council passed the remaining two suggestions when it approved this year’s budget. Employee contributions were increased, and the co-pay for brand medications was raised. The moves are expected to save $293,000, according to the insurance study.

Even with the insurance committee’s initial reactions to increased contributions to their benefits, Shaheen said he will present the rest of the suggestions for approval.

If City Council were to pass the remaining 10, it could save the city about $500,000 to pay to implement one of the recommended plans.

“You’ve got to balance compensation and benefits,” Shaheen said of the idea that employees could essentially be paying for part of their raises.

The mayor admitted even if all 12 of the insurance measures passed City Council, the savings would not be enough to implement the pay scale with the equity payment. It could fund two of the six recommended plans.

City Council approved a 1.5 percent cost of living increase in June, which Shaheen said was to help the employees pay for the insurance measures that were passed. Prior to that, city employees have not been given merit increases for the past three years and had not received cost of living adjustments for two years.

For the most underpaid employee in the city, the cost of living adjustment approved in the budget equals about $234 more a year. The payroll study recommends an increase of between $7,700 and $9,642 in annual salary to properly compensate the administrative secretary.

Fobbus said he recommends City Council approve a plan in its entirety, as opposed to selectively choosing which employees’ salaries are raised and to how much.

“It’s important to (follow it exactly) because you can’t defend it if you don’t implement it as it’s presented by UGA,” he said.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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