Po­lice, fire pay com­mit­tee to hold in­au­gu­ral meet­ing

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - STACY RYBURN

FAYET­TEVILLE — Po­lice and fire rep­re­sen­ta­tives will start to hash out ev­ery­thing to do with pay raises when they sit down with city of­fi­cials for an in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee meet­ing Mon­day.

The Pay Plan Com­mit­tee, con­sist­ing of half the City Coun­cil, the de­tec­tive and fire cap­tain, and city ad­min­is­tra­tors will ex­plore ways to get uni­formed em­ploy­ees closer to the mar­ket pay rate. The com­mit­tee’s in­cep­tion came on the heels of a com­pen­sa­tion plan the coun­cil adopted in March.

A study from Fayet­teville-based Jo­han­son Group found po­lice of­fi­cers’ pay lagged 15.6 per­cent be­hind the av­er­age pay of com­pa­ra­ble agen­cies in 22 re­gional cities, in­clud­ing those in North­west and Cen­tral Arkansas; Lawrence, Kan.; Spring­field, Mo.; and Still­wa­ter, Okla. Fire­fight­ers came up 12.5 per­cent short. No­nuni­formed em­ploy­ees fell 11.5 per­cent be­hind their coun­ter­parts.

The coun­cil de­cided to

put $1.7 mil­lion, mostly from the gen­eral fund re­serve, to­ward city­wide pay raises. This year’s bud­get is $155 mil­lion. Po­lice of­fi­cers and fire­fight­ers, who are on a step pay plan, got an av­er­age 6 per­cent raise. Merit em­ploy­ees, or the city’s no­nuni­formed work­ers, re­ceived a 4 per­cent pay hike.

The pay raises adopt the en­tire Jo­han­son plan for merit em­ploy­ees and 25 per­cent of the plan for step em­ploy­ees.

De­tec­tive Leonard Graves, the se­lected po­lice rep­re­sen­ta­tive, wants to change that.

“It seems like this com­mit­tee may have four or five dif­fer­ent items on the agenda, but our big­gest one is to im­ple­ment the salary sur­vey that was pre­sented to the city at 100 per­cent for sworn law en­force­ment and fire per­son­nel,” he said. “We only got a per­cent­age of that num­ber.”

The city cal­cu­lates what raises it can give through a com­bi­na­tion of avail­able re­serves bal­anced with an­tic­i­pated growth in sales tax rev­enue and sur­plus money, re-eval­u­at­ing po­ten­tial raises every year.

Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer Paul Becker said last week that sales tax col­lec­tions are 4 per­cent higher than bud­geted for the year. That rep­re­sents about $620,000 in ex­tra rev­enue, with about $460,000 go­ing into the gen­eral fund, he said.

Graves said po­lice un­der­stand money doesn’t grow on trees and was glad to hear about the sales tax growth. Sales tax makes up about 60 per­cent of the city’s gen­eral fund rev­enue.

“We just want to come up with an in­no­va­tive way to fund the rest of the raises,” Graves said. “We want to get this wage and ben­e­fit sur­vey as a stand­ing com­mit­tee. That’s ben­e­fi­cial be­cause even in years when we don’t do sur­veys, we still meet and look at num­bers and try to project what we’re go­ing on.”

The city adopted a com­pen­sa­tion phi­los­o­phy a decade ago and re­vised it in 2012. Part of that re­vi­sion en­tailed do­ing a mar­ket sur­vey every four years and us­ing the re­sults to in­flu­ence pay raises. Be­fore this year, the city last used a study to help guide pay raises in 2013 un­der a dif­fer­ent con­sul­tant.

Mayor Lioneld Jor­dan set four agenda items. The com­mit­tee will look at whether the mar­ket study should cover just North­west Arkansas agen­cies or con­tinue us­ing com­par­i­son cities in sur­round­ing states. The method of com­pen­sa­tion, whether it’s merit-based, a step plan or a blend, also should be de­ter­mined. The pay plan’s im­ple­men­ta­tion over time and how of­ten pay stud­ies are done also will be up for dis­cus­sion.

“We’ve got to fig­ure out how of­ten we’re go­ing to meet, but we’ll meet as long as is nec­es­sary, I can tell you that,” Jor­dan said.

The city’s fire­fight­ers work in such an ef­fi­cient man­ner that it ul­ti­mately saves the city money, said Capt. Jimmy Vin­yard, the se­lected Fire Depart­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Fire­fighter pay should re­flect those sav­ings, he said.

“I think we’re pro­vid­ing an above-mar­ket job,” Vin­yard said. “You can look at a few of the de­part­ments around us. Our call vol­ume com­pared to theirs, their staffing lev­els com­pared to ours. We’re smaller and do­ing more calls.”

The city should also repri­or­i­tize where it puts its money, Vin­yard said. A topto-bot­tom look at ev­ery­thing from parks and trails to re­cy­cling would serve as a place to start.

“I think we’re pro­vid­ing a lot for our cit­i­zens,” he said. “But are we tak­ing away from, pos­si­bly, the strength of the fire and po­lice de­part­ments in pro­vid­ing th­ese other ser­vices that th­ese other com­mu­ni­ties don’t pro­vide that we do pro­vide?”

This com­mit­tee won’t be the first of its kind. In 2005, city ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der then-Mayor Dan Coody es­tab­lished the Em­ployee Wage and Ben­e­fit Com­mit­tee, but it dis­solved af­ter set­ting the guide­lines the ad­min­is­tra­tion uses to­day to cal­cu­late pay in­creases.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

Mem­bers of the Fayet­teville Fire Depart­ment re­spond July 7 to the re­port of smoke in a build­ing in down­town Fayet­teville. The smoke was the re­sult of work­ing be­ing done in the build­ing.

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