Emporia city staff will receive salary increases in 2022, but how much those raises will be and how they will be allocated remain undecided.
The topic of city staff wages again came up during the city commission’s Wednesday morning study session as it discussed its 2022 budget.
Increasing salaries has been a pressing issue as the commission has worked on its 2022 budget, with commissioners and city staff acknowledging that in the past several years wage adjustments haven’t occurred as often as necessary to keep pay rates competitive with those offered by other communities.
In previous sessions, the commission had discussed bumping up the wage scale 12% — with no one’s actual salary being raised except for those on the low end of the old wage scale to bring their salaries within the new wage scale — as well as providing a $1 per hour raise across the board.
However, on Wednesday, City Manager Mark McAnarney said that merit-based raises were important to city staff and that the commission needed to reevaluate the across-the-board raises previously proposed.
Commissioner Danny Giefer acknowledged that the point of raising the bottom of the wage scale was to make city jobs more appealing to potential new hires but said that he had heard concerns from long-time city staff about new employees being paid wages similar to what the established employees earned.
City Finance Director Janet Harrouff proposed a 2% salary increase for all staff and a 2.5% merit increase in 2022 in addition to the 12% bump to the wage scale.
The proposed 2022 budget has $750,000 set aside in the general fund for wage increases, with the subsequent four years setting aside $500,000 each year for the same purpose.
Mayor Rob Gilligan said that the discussions regarding the wage scale increases and actual wage increases were two different issues and that by combining them in previous sessions the commission may have confused the conversation.
“First, is our wage scale and that’s our document that guides what the earnings rates can be for each position as their classifications,” he said. “And we need to adjust that. We haven’t adjusted that in a long time. The scale, of course, tells you where you can start people, where they can be employed and then … a maximum rate that we can pay them for that position.”
Gilligan said that the 2022 budget included $157,000 to adjust the salaries that would fall out of the new wage scale. The scale increase would also allow employees who had reached the top of the old wage scale to receive raises again.
The other issue, Gilligan said, is how the $750,000 set aside in 2022 will be apportioned for staff raises, whether that will be a $1 per hour across-the-board raise, a merit-based raise or some other solution.
“The dollar an hour raise across the board is $40,000 more expensive in total than what we estimate the budget of a merit raise and a 2% baseline wage because the 2.5% merit raise is a rough aggregation of what we think everything roughly shakes down,” Gilligan said. “So, in the budget sense, they’re pretty much budget-neutral. It’s a small difference.”
He also clarified that the 2022 budget — which is set to be adopted on Sept. 15 following a public hearing that same day — does not need to reflect how the raises will be doled out and that that is an ongoing conversation the commission needs to have.
“We’ve just earmarked the dollars that are there so that then staff can come in with a strategy to say, ‘How do we need to best apply this to make the best impact on our organization?’” Gilligan said. “And it may vary by department. Some departments may need enhancements at certain levels percentage-wise, some we may need equal across-the-board raises because that’s where the difference is, and staff can apply that in a most efficient manner to benefit our organization in the best possible way.”
While allocations of raises might vary by department, Gilligan said that those decisions would be made at an administrative level because those are budgetary decisions.
“We know that we have $750,000 to spend budgeted in our budget for next year,” he said. “Now, between now and 2022, we decide how best to spend that to enhance our staff salaries.”
Commissioner Becky Smith said she was in favor of the merit raises as well as the 2% raise for all staff in 2022 and that she’d like to see that set in motion quickly.
“We’ve sunk so much into infrastructure lately and we’ve focused on water and sewer and streets,” Smith said. “Now it’s time to focus on our employees.”
Meanwhile, Commissioner Susan Brinkman said she’d like to see the city move away from focusing on one area for a certain period of time to the detriment of another area.
“We have to get to a point where it’s not this whiplash pendulum swing of, ‘Okay, we’re taking care of our employes and now the roads have completely fallen apart. Okay, see you guys in a decade, we’re going to take care of our roads,’ and now we have the lowest paid employees in the state,” she said.
McAnarney said that in his 38 years of experience, he’s learned that “it’s a balancing act” of consistently reinvesting both in staff and in infrastructure.
Commissioner Jon Geitz reminded his fellow commissioners of the source of the money that is used to pay city employees.
“We also have to keep in mind that the suppliers of the majority of our revenue are taxpayers,” he said.
The commission will take up the issue of how to apportion wage increases in 2022 during upcoming sessions.