City looks at raises, benefits changes

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - BRYAN FAZIO bfazio@cov­news.com

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.

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