By SHELLY WILKISON
The City Council learned Tuesday that it could take more than $179,000 to bring city salaries up to market level, as a salary study showed Liberty Hill city workers are paid less than their counterparts in neighboring cities.
The study, which was commissioned of Ray Associates for $29,754, sought to compare local salaries and benefits with those of 13 other municipal governments. The goal of the study, said consultant Katherine Ray, was to bring city pay into the median range of the market. Half of the cities surveyed paid more and half paid less than Liberty Hill.
While the Council budgeted funds this year anticipating as much as a 15 percent increase in payroll as a result of the study, the real numbers appeared to surprise some.
Mayor Connie Fuller suggested the Council spend some time studying the lengthy document and meet in a workshop to discuss the issue further. No action was taken Tuesday on the salary study, and further information will be presented by the firm on Oct. 23 comparing benefits in the surveyed cities.
Cities used in the comparison included Bastrop, Brenham, Buda, Burnet, Cedar Park, Dripping Springs, Georgetown, Hutto, Jonestown, Lago Vista, Lampasas, Leander and Marble Falls. The Council selected the employers with guidance from the firm, which said the cities were direct competitors with Liberty Hill because of their proximity — most within 60 miles.
The study, which compared Liberty Hill salaries for 19 positions to comparable jobs in those cities, showed local police department salaries are significantly lower than the others. The firm recommended the City adopt a police department pay scale separate from civilian employees.
“Over time, police pay will rise more quickly than the pay for other employees, so having them in a separate pay schedule makes it easier to deal with that,” said Ray. “I suspect that’s why so many of the police jobs (LHPD) were so far below market.”
To implement the salary study, the cost to bring police salaries to the entry level of the market median for each position would be $75,902. Everyone in the department would see a pay increase ranging from $733 to as much as $21,242 for the Police Chief. The Chief is currently paid $72,150 and the study’s recommended increase would bring the salary to $93,392.
“All the pay grades for police mirror the market at the 50th percentile,” Ray said.
She said Liberty Hill entry level salaries for four of the 19 jobs were the lowest or “next-to-the-lowest” when compared to other cities’ entry level salaries. Those jobs were Police Officer, Police Sergeant, Police Lieutenant and Superintendent of Operations in Public Works.
Additionally, for those positions plus the position of Police Chief, Liberty Hill pays more than 10 percent below the entry of the pay range.
Another significant finding of the study was the salary for City Administrator. Liberty Hill’s Greg Boatright is paid 44.4 percent below the market for the position and raising the position to the 50th percentile would require a $73,279 increase to bring the salary to $165,068. He is currently paid $91,789.
Ray said the position was “the most below market of any of the jobs in the city.”
The City Administrator’s salary is determined by the city council, and the pay and benefits are typically outlined in an employment contract, which is up for renewal this year.
Council Member Ron Rhea asked whether consideration was given to the fact that so many of the cities in the comparison generated significantly more tax revenue than Liberty Hill. The consultant responded that it wasn’t pertinent.
“Whether they have more revenue or not, you’re competing for the same employees,” Ray said. “The same employees are based within 30 miles, and all but one (city) was within 60 miles, which is still commuting distance.”
The study proposed the creation of pay grades for non-police employees, with a salary range for each position. Ray explained that the goal was to bring every position up to the entry level position for their respective pay range. To do that, will cost the City $179,640, which includes the costs of police salary adjustments.
“The total transitional cost ($179,640) is the highest cost we’ve seen in 40 years of doing this type of work. Normally we see about a 5 percent increase (in payroll),” Ray said.
“I think this came about because you went from being a tiny city and as you took on utility districts to provide water and wastewater service, you became comparable to larger cities, whether you realized it or not, with the number of people served.”
Other than the position of City Administrator, which is set by the Council in an employment contract, 13 employees would see a bump in pay while others would see no pay increase at all.
“If they are paid less than entry level, then we added an increase to bring them to the minimum of the pay grade. If they are between entry and maximum of a pay grade, they got no increase because they are within the range. If they are higher than the maximum of the grade, then we froze the salary,” Ray said.
That’s the news that appeared to concern the Mayor and other council members. Fuller said the difference in salary adjustments could appear that the Council is playing favorites.
“I don’t want it to look that way,” she said. “I want everyone to understand what we’re trying to do.”
Ray encouraged officials not to focus on the percent changes for each individual, and instead think of the change as bringing everyone up to market. She said the market data supports each recommended change.
“Don’t focus on how much percent increase someone is getting. If they aren’t at market level and it takes 25 percent to bring them up to market, then yes, you should do it. It’s not really fair to bring some up to market and not others. I don’t want it to look like you’re playing favorites.”
She explained that an employee currently paid between entry level and maximum at the market median is acceptable. She added that if funds are available, the City could consider a 3 percent pay increase for job performance. A 3 percent annual pay increase is typical as a cost of living increase or market adjustment.
“With this new pay structure, everyone will be somewhere between median and maximum of what the pay range should be. We brought them at least into the ballpark, at least to the entry level,” Ray said.
“If there is no pay increase, the salary already fell between the median and maximum,” Ray said.
“I hate to see the people who got zeros get nothing. The data shows a 3 percent increase is typical. It would be great to ensure everyone got at least 3 percent, and they would be staying in the same pay grade.”
The survey also found that some Liberty Hill jobs were compensated above the market median. Only one was paid above the market maximum — the part-time Utility Billing Clerk. Ray recommended that salary be frozen.
Other positions paid above the mid-point of the new pay range included the Municipal Court Administrator and the Permit Assistant.
The study also recommended changes in job titles for five positions to be more comparable to those in other cities surveyed.
If the Council implements the salary study as presented Tuesday, the following positions would see an increase: City Administrator (amount set by Council), Economic Development Director, Police Chief, Police Lieutenant, Police Sergeant, Police Officer, City Planner, Utility Director, Superintendent (utility).
Also this week, the Council unanimously approved the reappointment of Clyde Davis and Wes Griffin to the Planning & Zoning Commission. There was no discussion on the appointments.
On the Parks & Recreation Board, the Council voted 3-0 to fill the expired term of Richard Marshall with Elizabeth Branigan — a former Council member who previously served on the Parks Board. Council Member Jon Branigan abstained from the vote because he is her son.
The Council also reappointed Janet Oliver.
In other business Tuesday, the Council selected a different firm to collect delinquent fines and fees assessed by the Municipal Court. A contract between the City and McCreary, Veselka, Bragg and Allen Attorneys at Law was dissolved, and a new contract was entered with the firm of Perdue, Brandon, Fielder, Collins & Mott as recommended by Judge Kevin Madison and Court Administrator Tracy Ventura.
Also Tuesday, the Council selected The Independent as its official newspaper for advertising purposes for fiscal 2017.
The Council met with the attorney about 15 minutes in closed session, and after reconvening took no action on possible acquisition of properties and personnel matters involving Boatright’s performance evaluation. Boatright did not stay in executive session throughout the Council’s discussion of his evaluation.
Council Member Troy Whitehead was not present Tuesday.