Gainesville officials are embarking on a pay study to determine if workers’ wages and benefits are competitive with similar-sized governments and private sector job equivalents.
“We are consistently hearing that our pay is not competitive in many departments, but mostly public safety,” said Human Resources Director Janeann Allison.
But there are concerns that the study will commit the city to approving salary increases, effectively forcing its hand.
“Any time we’re undertaking a pay study, the public thinks we’ll use it to justify giving employees an increase in their salary,” said Councilman George Wangemann. “It does not mean that.”
City officials said they are hoping to contract with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia to perform the study. No cost estimate has been given.
Allison said the study would review pay levels across every city department based on job descriptions, scales and surveys, as well as analyze the city’s promotional and training incentive policies.
“We hear from public safety routinely regarding pay discrepancies with surrounding agencies, but they are by far not the only reason for the study,” Allison said.
But complaints about pay coming out of the police department serve as an example of why officials want the study.
According to employee survey results obtained by The Times, 50 percent of police department personnel do not feel they are being paid a fair wage. Just 27 percent agree they are fairly compensated, while the remainder are neutral.
Moreover, 42 percent say they are unsatisfied with the benefits the city offers.
One anonymous employee, commenting on the survey, wrote,
“… The police department has an extremely high turnover rate, and many times it is attributed to pay. There are officers employed now that are contemplating leaving due to pay.”
Whatever recommended changes are made, city officials said adjustments to pay cannot be made all at once.
Instead, officials hope to design a multiyear plan, spanning perhaps five to eight years.
Officials said the study could take six months or more to complete.
“We want to be able to bring the best and brightest to work for the city of Gainesville team,” Allison said. “Not only do we want to attract them, we want to keep them working for us. We haven’t moved our pay tables in several years but plan to later this year.”
Of course, keeping pay competitive with municipalities and counties in metro Atlanta, the source of so much attrition, might not be feasible.
“We may not be able to match some of the very affluent Atlanta suburbs,” said Councilwoman Ruth Bruner. “It’s just that we don’t want to be way under … so that we can’t keep (workers).”
The pay study comes on the heels of the City Council approving merit raises of up to 5 percent for workers in this year’s budget.
But Mayor Danny Dunagan described those increases as more comparable to cost-of-living adjustments.
“The last thing I want to do is underpay our employees,” he added.”I want what’s fair for them.”
Wangemann, meanwhile, isn’t sure if the pay study is the best use of funds.
“I’d almost rather not do a study and use the money for (merit) increases,” he said.