City looks at raises, benefits changes
A heated discussion came out of Thursday evening’s city of Covington work session as Human Resources Director Ronnie Cowan proposed some changes to employee pay, benefits, pay structure and policy reviews, such as overnight stays for training sessions.
The first topic discussed was how the city could possibly develop senior managers as some of the upper-level employees begin to retire.
According to Cowan 50 percent of the city’s department heads would be retiring in the next five years, and the city should develop its own pool of candidates. Under the key processes associated with doing so, the city could expect a time frame of 12-18 months for completion of the training.
While existing employees, with leadership potential, are trained up new employees will still be coming in, and Cowan shared with the council some ways to help in hiring the best candidates.
The big point in a possible new hiring asset would be a 5.1 percent increase across the board in pay. Cowan said the city has been on the same pay plan since the 1990s with periodical updates every two years, among the city’s 22 grades of pay.
“The problem is pay compression,” Cowan said. “For the tech, skilled, trade workers, pay is not competitive; that is a difficulty in recruiting and retention of qualified workers.”
A survey of city jobs showed Covington is offering pay 9 percent below the market minimum, with 26 jobs found to be within five present of the market.
“I do think we need to take care of employees, particularly at the mid-level and down,” Cowan said.
Covington’s HR department also presented a plan for creating a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA), which would be fully funded by the city in order for employees to continue having health care after retirement.
The HRA award schedule would have the city contribute $800 to employees with 6-14 years of work, leading to the accumulation of $7,200; $1,350 for employees with 1525 years of service, accumulating $14,860 during that period; and an employee with 2630 years of service getting $1,750 from the city, accumulating $30,000 for insurance.
The pay increase and HRA will help with recruitment and retention of city employees, but will also come at a hefty cost to the city at just over $1 million. Coupled with a recent vote to change the city’s utilities structure, the city will be spending roughly $2 million.
City councilman Chris Smith and Mayor Ronnie Johnston voiced concern over the hit to the budget the proposed pay and benefit restructure would cause, but look at the city’s HR policy over overnight stay caused a heated vocal outcry among most all the council members.
Cowan suggested decreasing the city’s required 50 miles of travel for an overnight stay to 35. Councilmen Smith and Keith Dalton said they would not be willing to decrease the mileage requirement. Johnston then proposed that for city employees a 35 mile requirement be adapted only for trips requiring two or more days of training, and for elected officials just to use their allotted $3,000 of training travel funds.
That proposal was also looked upon negatively by Dalton and Smith. City Manager Leigh Anne Knight then told the council she would prefer no change to the HR policy if the council could not come to a unanimous consensus. Therefore with the council leaning toward reaching a 3-2 consensus (Councilman Mike Whatley was not in attendance) the issue was considered closed.