The Statesville City Council financed a study to find out how much its employees should be paid, and now the city’s electrical, fire and police departments will get a raise.
The city council voted unanimously to accept the results from two recent studies that would increase pay for employees from those departments to make them more competitive with other cities.
In the action request, the council authorized City Manager Ron Smith to contract Gallagher Benefit Services to conduct a compensation review for the electric department and ancillary positions. The study began in April 2020 and after enduring delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gallagher has completed the study and findings. Later in 2020, Piedmont Triad Regional Council was hired to study what Statesville’s police and fire departments should be paid.
Smith said these studies compare Statesville’s positions to other similar positions. In the case of the public safety position, those positions were compared to municipalities within 45 minutes of the city. The study for the electric department compared both public and private positions.
The implementation would result in a $414,911 increase to the city budget, but due to issues with pay compression in the fire department, another $185,263 to address the issue of massaging the raises without undercutting more experienced members of the department would be needed.
On the electrical side, a $152,211 increase to the budget would be needed for the electrical department, while the electric ancillary position implementation would require $144,060.
For public safety, Smith said the average increase would be 12%. For firefighters, that means an increase from $31,200 to $35,861, with higher ranks also seeing increases.
“We were theoretically 17% behind our peers in this same market. What we’ve done is moved it to 99%,” Smith said. “As you would expect, 17%, that’s pushing into a pretty significant change.”
For the police department, the average increase is 3.5%, with police officer pay increasing from $37,654 to $41,513, and leadership will see raises as well. Smith said previous changes had put the department’s pay at roughly 91% of the market rate.
In public safety, more than 250 different positions would be affected, according to Smith.
While the city had set aside $500,000 to address these issues previously, Smith said the study showed the cost would be closer to $600,000. However, Smith said that because of the size of the departments and how they’re budgeted for full employment, lapsed salaries from unfilled positions might close the $100,000 difference.
Councilman Frederick Foster directly asked if there were concerns or comments from the heads of the department. Police Chief David Addison said that they had seen officers leave for Salisbury and other cities due to pay. He said closing the gap would help address that issue.
“So, yes, we’re happy,” Addison said.
Fire Chief Andy Weatherman said the same.
“We’re getting very comparable to the other surrounding departments, our peers, so I think it will help us retain firefighters we’ve been losing in the past,” Weatherman said.
That issue extended to the electric department, with Director of Electric Utilities John Maclaga stating that the department had two linemen resign in the past three weeks. He said one retired after 30 years while the other had four or five years of experience. When asked by Councilwoman Doris Allison, he said that when the department had tried hiring a new lineman with two years of experience recently, the person said the pay was too low.
“I’d like to stop that if I could, to get some help,” Maclaga said.
He said the challenge was often training new hires with no experience, something that often takes a few years before they’re fully prepared for the job.
Councilman Steve Johnson asked if the city could keep up with competitive pay as time went on while also asking if compression could be handled over time as well. Smith said this potential increase was a start, but that the city needs to be consistent by continuing raises and compensation increases.
“Otherwise, the more prosperous communities around us are going to pass us by again, and then we have to catch up,” Smith said.
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