Study found public works employees are underpaid

A consultant’s study of city worker salaries resulted in a lump-sum pay increase at the Satellite Beach City Council meeting June 6 and supported what Public Works Director Allen Potter has contended for years: The city was not paying its public works employees a living wage.

The city contracted with Cody and Associates Inc. to perform a salary study looking at public works, initially in 2013 and again more recently, to come up with a salary structure and advancement opportunities for the city to “remain competitive in the labor market and to successfully obtain and retain personnel.”

The more recent study was expanded to include all city personnel, but still ended up focused on public works deficiencies.

To help give them an incentive for advancement, the study suggested the creation of a career ladder component.

The change provides three levels for the positions of Facilities Maintenance Specialist, Grounds Maintenance and Street Maintenance Specialist.

The study results concluded, as expected, that pay adjustments were needed in several salary ranges within public works.

“We’re looking at this more urgently now because of the issue with public works employees. They are among the lowest paid in the city and we kept losing them to jobs making a dollar more an hour. There is value in maintaining competitive wages,’’ said Assistant City Manager Suzanne Sherman.

The pay hikes include many positions, but not all. It uses an equation involving years of service to determine if salaries are below what they should be, she said.

Potter said he has lost nine employees over the last three years, including three retirements.

The low pay situation has been made even more difficult because the city requires contributions for employee savings programs and for employees’ share of medical insurance coverage, sometimes making their first paycheck their only one, said City Manager Courtney Barker.

“When they look at their paycheck after the deductions, with as low as the starting salary is … they go find a job elsewhere,’’ she said.

Added Potter: “You tell them up front but when they get their first paycheck and all the deductions come out, reality sets in. We had one guy less than two weeks.’’

The pay increases to bring public works salaries up to competitive levels will cost the city about $35,000 over two years.

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