By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Joplin city employees are to receive a 3 percent across-the-board pay increase.
City Manager Mark Rohr told the City Council on Monday night that no raises have been given since November 2010, and that all city employees performed admirably to help with the rescue and recovery efforts after the 2011 tornado.
“The city does a good job of maintaining its infrastructure,” Rohr told the council during its informal meeting, “but I’m afraid we are falling behind on maintaining the personnel infrastructure.
“No greater test of any city employee has ever occurred” than the EF-5 tornado on May 22 that claimed 161 lives and destroyed or damaged about 7,500 structures.
He proposed that the city immediately grant a 3 percent across-the-board raise, and asked the council to review previously discussed pay-plan options and choose one by June 15.
Despite repeated discussions over the past several years, the City Council has not adopted a pay plan, so there is nothing in place to trigger raises.
In 2009, the council studied a pay-for-performance plan. The panel rejected it in early 2010, saying it eventually would get too costly as salaries rose, especially those of higher paid employees.
Two years ago, the city staff did a market study of public sector wages, and Joplin’s pay rates ranked 20 percent below those of other cities, Rohr said. The city staff also presented research into different types of pay plans from which the council could choose. The council decided to further explore two kinds of plans: a range-and-step plan, and a performance-and-competency plan. That work was interrupted by a number of issues and was not resumed before the tornado hit, when most of the council’s work turned to tornado issues.
At Monday night’s meeting, Rohr said he understands that people are rebuilding from the tornado, and that he was not asking that taxes be raised to pay for the wage increases. He said an across-the-board increase would cost $375,750. He said that amount could be paid from an increase in sales tax proceeds that has exceeded budget estimates. He said the city has strong fund balances but would not have to tap them for the cost.
Councilman Morris Glaze said he was not “real happy” about granting an across-the-board raise because he believes the council should pick a pay plan and implement it in order to comply with the city charter. He wants to tie raises to employee evaluations. Evaluations are tied to the anniversary of an employee’s hiring date.
Rohr said the 3 percent raise is a short-term effort to help employees meet rising costs. He said that if the council did choose a pay plan, it could mean that some employees would have to wait another year to get a raise because their anniversary date has already passed this year.
Councilman Jack Golden said pay-for-performance has been used in other places and in some local companies, and has not been successful. He said he would like to see a current local wage study to help decide what wages should be.
Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg said he believes an across-the-board pay raise is the most fair. “I think you’ll have less dissension if you do that way than any other way,” he said. To award raises in different amounts creates resentment among co-workers, he said.
Councilman Gary Shaw favored giving the raises, and he said the council should be familiarized with the pay-plan options so that it could select one at a future meeting.
Councilman Bill Scearce said he did not agree with awarding an across-the-board increase because it rewards workers on the higher end of the pay scale more than those on the lower end, and they need more money the most to keep up with gas prices and utility costs.
Shaw said the council should try to make it as fair as possible and give a raise. “I think our people deserve something,” he said.
Golden asked that the council be sensitive to the plight of residents in deciding how much government would cost.
THE COUNCIL’S VOTE to approve the 3 percent pay increase was unanimous.