Macon pay plan keeps drawing questions

The city of Macon’s employee pay plan, instituted in early 2011, was based on a study by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. But it was the low end of three options, and was a truncated version of that -- because that’s all the city could afford, according to Human Resources Director Ben Hubbard.

Councilman Charles Jones, chairman of the city Employee Development & Compensation Committee, asked Hubbard for more explanation of the pay plan Wednesday. Jones said he’s heard from many city employees who still don’t understand how it was devised and implemented. Why, he asked, was this particular option chosen of the three CVI presented?

Hubbard said CVI studied pay at other Georgia cities, and the resulting options would allow Macon to “lead the market” in pay, equal other cities, or lag behind. Macon’s tight budget meant the only viable option was to lag behind comparable cities, but even that 18-step plan was too much to afford at once, he said.

So the plan Mayor Robert Reichert presented in December 2010 had been cut to 12 steps. The remaining six can be added on when the city can afford it, Hubbard said.

Each of the city’s roughly 1,200 employees was assigned to a specific step on the scale, with none taking a pay cut and many getting increases -- substantial raises, in the cases of some high-ranking officials. But it was necessary to do “something radical” for the 700 police and firefighters, Hubbard said. In those departments wages were very close together across ranks, and in some cases lower-ranking employees out-earned their superiors due to length of service.

Thus the first new batch of raises, given halfway through the last fiscal year, went to police and firefighters to spread out those pay anomalies.

“Everybody in the departments got a raise, basically,” Hubbard said.

General employees -- everyone but police and firefighters -- were told they’d get the next round of raises. Reichert’s fiscal 2013 budget, which went into effect July 1, 2012, includes $600,000 to be distributed among about 350 general employees, based on seniority. That could move some up as much as three steps on the 12-step plan. Only about 50, who were already making the maximum for their jobs, didn’t get raises.

Jones thanked Hubbard for the open admission that Macon just couldn’t afford to do more; but he asked what plans there are for getting “at least equal, on the same page” with other Georgia cities.

Hubbard said Reichert and interim Chief Administrative Officer Dale Walker are looking at whether the city can afford to add the six additional steps in the fiscal 2014 budget, to be presented in about 10 months.

Jones said he’s heard from 20 or 30 city employees, asking why they should stay with the city once it’s clear they’re ineligible for further step increases.

“We give people no incentive to stay here, but rather incentive to leave,” he said. Jones said he doesn’t think that’s the administration’s intent, but nonetheless that perception exists.

He said he’s glad the administration is talking about adding the remaining steps to the plan, but he thinks perhaps the pay plan shouldn’t have been implemented until it could be done fully.

Councilman Henry Gibson said in some cases, especially among police, lower-ranking employees are still out-earning their superiors due to overtime pay.

Hubbard acknowledged that can happen, but that last year’s pay increases made it less common. And that anomaly won’t affect pensions, since those are calculated on base pay rather than overtime, he said.

Jones said he would like to see the city post more detailed information on the pay plan on its website, for employees. Wednesday’s information session “doesn’t cure the heartburn,” but helps -- and that should be made easily available to all employees, he said.

“Good communication can prevent a lot of misunderstanding,” Jones said.

Hubbard agreed, and said detailed information on the pay plan and answers to common questions could be posted soon.

To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.