Our View: Salary study offers a holistic approach to city’s ongoing pay debate

May 8, 2019

Considering how prominent the issue of pay became during last year’s City Council elections, it’s surprising to learn that Lake Havasu City is only now getting around to conduct a salary study to compare local pay to similar cities in Arizona.

The study is part of the city’s plan to make adjustments to its pay structures with a goal of better attracting and retaining employees. That’ll go a long way with groups like the firefighters, a profession which has suffered from salary compression, a phenomenon that occurs when longtime employees aren’t given raises while new hires are brought in at increasingly higher pay, until there’s little difference between what employees bring home. That issue was at the heart of the 2018 City Council race, pushed by the Havasu Professional Firefighters Association, which points out that firefighter attrition was 16 percent this fiscal year.

Obviously, that’s far too high.

It’s good that the city will finally address the issue with a comprehensive salary study, because it’s the chance to offer a holistic approach to the pay issue rather than single out a particular department and creating hard feelings among other city employees, as has happened in the past.

On that note, we’d caution the city against including council pay in the salary study. City Council paychecks may or may not compare well to what other cities offer, but that doesn’t matter — City Council members aren’t exactly seeking council jobs in other areas. Any question about council pay should be addressed separately from the salary study.

The city should also use this as an opportunity to take a queue from private industry. Many companies, when faced with rising personnel costs, will review operations and staffing levels to ensure maximum efficiency. Sometimes, that means combining positions and eliminating others to afford the increases.

It’s important to note that there are a number of new full-time positions in this year’s city budget, so it’s hard to believe that anyone has taken a hard look at the potential for efficiencies — though we suppose it could be argued that there was plenty of belt-tightening and “right-sizing” that occurred naturally thanks to the lean economy of the last decade, and we’re only now beginning to grow staff again. Still, introspection and self-evaluation is never a bad thing.

Finally, city leaders are pushing to replace the salary schedule with something akin to merit pay. It’s an idea with some — ahem — merit. Private industry years ago found merit pay in the form of performance bonuses helped boost productivity and improve hard-to-measure areas like customer service. We’re eager to hear more about how the city might make use of a pay-for-performance plan to recruit and retain top talent.

—Today’s News-Herald