Peachtree City Councilmember Eric Imker has continued to rail against the recently updated pay and classification system for city employees which added over $600,000 in salary increases to the annual budget. This week, he sent an e-mail advising County Administrator Steve Rapson regarding his plan to do a salary review study for the county.
Rapson put forth the idea of a county study through the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, but was denied by the county commission Thursday on a 3-2 vote.
In a response to Imker, Rapson noted the study he had proposed would not be as in depth as Peachtree City’s and would have several differences.
“No new salary scale, no across the board pay raises, no salary compression analysis or equity adjustments for longevity,” Rapson wrote in his e-mail. “It’s simply a ‘best practice’ upgrade of the existing 2007 pay and classification system.”
Commissioners Randy Ognio and Allen McCarty and Chairman Steve Brown each voted against doing the study. Charles Oddo and David Barlow voted for it.
Imker told Rapson to “control” which municipalities and counties Fayette compared itself to, saying Peachtree City “screwed up big time in allowing the contractor who did their study to use clear higher cost of living areas in determining pay under the guise that’s where the PTC labor market came from.”
At Thursday night’s meeting, Rapson acknowledged the Peachtree City pay study as an “elephant in the room” that might be causing concern for the potential cost, in total raises, of a study. He attempted to distance what the county would do from what Peachtree City had done, noting many of the differences he had cited to Imker.
Notably, Rapson said the county had decided to exclude Peachtree City entirely as a comparison market.
“We will not compare ourself to Peachtree City,” Rapson said. “I’m not getting into why, but that study was different.”
Rapson said the study would have focused on Henry, Coweta, and Spalding Counties along with Tyrone, Fayetteville, Newnan, and Griffin.
He indicated it is “best practice” to update job classifications and adjust pay scales every five to seven years. The county last went through that process in 2007.
“We’re not anticipating huge revisions of what we’re doing now,” Rapson said.
Nonetheless, the idea drew enough resistance from commissioners that it was voted down.
Ognio said that, as a business owner, he felt the county should be capable of deciding how much to pay employees and should let that be dictated by productivity rather than an “automatic increase” that might come at the lower ends of the pay scales.
Ognio also doubted whether the county should be comparing itself to other counties that may not be as fiscally sound.
“It really bothers me the way these studies are done. It’s just a crazy cycle that to me don’t make any sense,” Ognio said, referencing the problems of multiple counties conducting similar studies and causing a reciprocal process of increasing salaries as a means to stay competitive for hiring.
A representative from Carl Vinson indicated the studies they conduct “do their best to compare apples to apples.”
Oddo agreed with the points Ognio made, but said he had considered the matter and decided it would be valuable to do the study “because it’s important everyone understands where the county is going.”
Chairman Steve Brown said he wanted to “avoid comparison to Gwinnett, Cobb, and Fulton” counties because they have “vastly different markets” and “some of their compensation packages are so over the top, you have private employees going to work there because their compensation is so good.”
Brown was responding to an element of the study which would have compared Fayette County to a broader spectrum of employers, including some private, in order to get a “point of reference.”
Rapson said he felt the county could do its own comparison with other communities, but didn’t have the resources to “drill down on each position” in the way a Carl Vinson study would.
One criticism leveled by Imker in Peachtree City was the city’s turnover rate, which he said was lower than the average and thus did not suggest a need to increase salaries as a way to retain employees.
Rapson said the county is not having trouble retaining employees, but that keeping salary scales up to date could head off problems in the future.
“We currently do not have retention problems. This is just a best practices measure to make sure we don’t. The time to do this is not when you have retention problems,” Rapson said.
Brown said he felt the county needed to “resolve some underlying issues” in its departments before doing a pay study.
“I’ve never worked in a system where you resolve the pay scales before resolving underlying problems,” Brown said.
He said he had “no problem” with doing a pay study, but disagreed with the timing.
“You don’t want to put the cart before the horse. A year from now, I’d probably be the first one to put this forward,” Brown said.
Commissioner Barlow was the only one to adamantly support the study, saying his support was based on his support for Rapson.
Barlow said county employees “have a leader they’re following and that’s the reason the county is doing well,” and suggested the commission should support Rapson’s recommendation.
After the meeting, Rapson indicated that the ‘No’ vote from the commission would essentially take the concept off the table until they showed interest. He said he would not bring it back up himself unless they requested it.