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Posted: May 15, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Pay change could help Covington recruit

Covington has a lot of long-tenured employees, and, while that’s a good thing, it’s posing problems when the city tries to recruit and retain qualified replacements.

Salary consultant Whit Perrin Wright recommended a series of salary scale changes this week to help the city remain competitive in recruiting and retaining employees and to offer a more effective bonus system to reward high-performing employees.

One of the main recommendations was to increase the maximum salary for some positions, but increase the number of years it takes to reach the maximum level.

The city currently offers a series of seven, 5 percent pay increases employees can earn before they max out their salary for a given position. Normally, these increases were given annually; however, in recent years, the city either hasn’t given any raises or has had to give only partial raises.

The issue for the city comes when it tries to hire and keep highly-qualified employees, particularly in top management positions.

A couple of long-time, senior administrative officials retired last year, including utilities director Bill Meecham and transportation director Billy Skinner.

In order to attract a qualified replacement from another city or company, the city often has to start that employee with a salary that’s already mid-way through their pay grades. So instead of being able to earn seven 5 percent increases, they may have only two or three steps left, meaning they could max out their salary in just a couple of years.

Another issue with hiring new employees at a higher starting salary is that it can make current employees who have been with the company for a few years feel slighted because they’re earning the same or a lower wage.
However, the proposed plan was to overhaul this entire structure.

The new salary plan would call for the city to instead offer 3 percent step raises – mid way in between the half-step raises and the 5 percent full step raises – but offer 12 of them.

Wright said that the average difference between minimum and maximum salaries for a position for Covington was only 34 percent (48 percent if incentives are included) while other comparable cities in Georgia had a 54 percent gap, and some jobs had an 80 percent gap that allowed for a lot more growth.

In general, Wright said cities would have smaller pay range gaps for lower-skilled jobs and bigger gaps for higher-skilled jobs to allow for continued growth in those advanced areas.

Wright also proposed adding in a pay-for-performance bonus system to encourage employees to continue to work at a max level even after they’ve topped out on the salary range.

While the city has evaluated performances for years, Human Resources Director Ronnie Cowan said the current system was cumbersome. However, he said affordable technology is now available that will make evaluations easier for managers to keep up with.

The bonus plan would call for an annual opportunity to earn a bonus, but that bonus would have to be re-earned every year – it would not increase the employee’s base salary. Wright said managers’ bonuses could be tied to how well they handle the evaluation process for their employees.

The bonus – Cowan said he was thinking something around 2 percent – would only be given to employees who objectively exceed the basic requirements of their job. Most likely, the city would only set aside enough money to cover raises for some employees – maybe half – which would force managers to pick the highest-performing employees.

The Covington City Council will have to vote later to approve the proposed changes.

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