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Covington looks at merit-based pay scale for linemen
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COVINGTON, Ga. - After four linemen resigned from the city of Covington in one week, city staff has worked to create a merit-based pay scale that is more competitive with the market in an effort to better retain its staff. 

"After a salary survey, our pay is pretty in line with the market," Covington Safety Risk Manager Asher Dozier said during Thursday night's council work session. "What our salary survey doesn't reflect is how our employees move through that salary. In other words, our low end is on par and our high end is on par, but what we realized in the last few days is that other places move them through that low to high end in a very different way than we do."

Dozier said currently the city has time-based pay that rewards longevity in employment, instead of offering incentives for skills and training. 

"In very technical jobs, people pay for your skill not how long you've been on the job," he said. "That's what we're competing with."

Freddy Morgan, electric department director, presented a merit-based pay plan which included eight different skill levels an employee can work their way through. 

"Our pay scale is geared towards, you come in year one and you make this, in year two you make this ... it doesn't matter how good or how bad you are," Dozier said. "The problem is, you may have a newer lineman with great skill at the lower end of the pay scale and an older lineman with not great skill at the higher end of the pay scale."

Dozier and Morgan emphasized that promotion would come from skills testing, instead of years of service, with four levels at the apprentice ranking and four levels at the lineman ranking. 

"We have to do something to quit being Snapping Shoals' training ground, which is what we're doing," Dozier said. "Through exit interviews with the guys who left - especially the apprentices - they weren't upset with what they made. They were upset with not knowing what their pay would be in five years."

Morgan said currently the electric department has a crew of 11, with seven of those being linemen and four being apprentices.

"In some ways, your really good workers you're going to pay them well early and keep them, your not so great linemen are going to top out in the middle of the scale where they used to make it to the end," Dozier said. "Budget-wise, I think in the long term it will be a wash because of that."

Dozier also mentioned that there are different rankings within each skill level. 

City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said there is an external testing mechanism for linemen apprentices to make it easier to implement a merit-based pay scale in the electric department. She said she would not be surprised if the staff continued to bring pay scale changes to the council as the market has changed causing a demand in higher wages in other departments as well. 

"The market is so good right now, it is difficult to entice people," she said. "The private sector is doing a little better job right now of enticing them with signing bonuses and things of that nature."

The council unanimously agreed the merit-based pay scale would be the way to go for the electric department and instructed staff to move forward. 

Knight said the pay plan would be part of the 2019-20 fiscal year budget later this month for the council to officially take a vote. 

With the changes to this pay scale, the council will see a possible $30,000 or less increase in salaries, if none of the employees left. 

"We're thinking it is not going to affect us, though, because we will be losing people and they will be out for a while until we can replace them so we're hoping it will wash," she said.