Columbia’s pay raises, or, How do I get me one of THESE jobs?

A former colleague asked me if I had done anything on the blog about the Columbia city employee pay raises. Come to think of it, I had not. Here’s the story in The State he was referring to.

I don’t know about you, but I had trouble sorting through all the numbers in the story — which is why I didn’t post when I first tried to read it. I found it confusing. I had trouble finding the one figure I wanted most, the one I could hang my hat on: The average percentage increases each year. You tell me they were getting raises of 10 percent, and I get upset. If it’s more like 2 percent, I’m just jealous.

You can sort of guess at averages, but I couldn’t  quite arrive with the available data. For instance, we’re told that between 2004 and 2009:

The number of employees making more than $50k rose from 172 to 412.

Employees making more than $50,000 a year had a combined total of $5,078,016 in raises.

OK, I don’t know how many there were over $50k in each year, but we can perhaps say that those 412 employees had a combined total of $5,078,016 in raises over five years (I think it’s saying that, but I’m not quite sure — how do you read it?). So if I’ve got those numbers right, they received an average of about $12,325 in increases over the period, or about $2,465 a year. An employee making $60k a year who got that much got a 4 percent raise. An employee making $120k receiving a $2,465 raise in one year got an increase of about 2 percent. Which is better than I got in my last couple of years at the paper, but not wildly out of line. But it’s at least debatable for anyone to get a 2- 4-percent raise in hard times.

Trouble is, one gets the impression that guesstimates of average percentages don’t mean much here, because some people got  WAY more than that. And that’s the hardest, and most eye-opening, information in the story, to wit:

Valerie Smith, whose annual pay grew to $79,000, about a $26,000 increase, with a promotion from executive assistant to office manager, where she supervised five people.- Shirley Dilbert, whose annual pay grew to $60,000, about a $24,000 increase, with a promotion from executive assistant to the city manager to public services coordinator.

– Starr Hockett, whose annual pay grew to $56,000, about a $13,000 increase, with a promotion to administrative fiscal resources coordinator.

– Libby Gober, whose annual pay grew to $77,000, about a $23,000 increase, with a promotion to administrative liaison to City Council.

– Gantt, whose annual pay grew to $135,000, about a $22,000 increase, with a promotion to bureau chief of operations. (Gantt now is interim city manager.)

… and so on. Those are the facts that really jump out.

I don’t know anything about those individual cases, and I have no idea to what extent those promotions are meaningful. But it seems unlikely to me that that many people, in a city government with as many problems as this one had, should have gotten raises of those magnitudes.

Thoughts? I would particularly appreciate some analysis from someone who is more adept with figures than I.

3 thoughts on “Columbia’s pay raises, or, How do I get me one of THESE jobs?

  1. Karen McLeod

    Were there new assignments more difficult, or more crucial, or demand more accountability. Who authorized these raises and to whom is he/she accountable? I know that state jobs are slotted by pay grades, and that there’s only a limited amount of flexibility in the pay one can be offered for any given grade. Does the city have a system like that?

  2. kbfenner

    There’s a whole lot more to it than percentage increase. You have to look at whether the employee was underpaid relative to equivalent positions in other municipalities, which was the case in some instances, whether the employee undertook significantly more responsibilities, and so on.

    Some of the raises were justified, in my somewhat educated opinion. Some seemed to be part of the Friends of Charlie issues.

    I do have to say that I chafe a bit when people in Blythewood and Forest Acres, who do not pay city taxes, feel compelled to criticize Columbia City government and write letters to the editor. I spend a lot of time working to make Columbia a better place, and I have first hand knowledge of how hard some, but by no means all, of these people work.

    And don’t tell me about your water rates. If you landscape wisely, shower frugally and don’t have a pool, as we do in all three cases, your water bills should not begin to approach the increased millage city residents pay. If you really hate dealing with Columbia city water, work with *your* municipality to change that.

  3. kbfenner

    One thing city residents have to contend with is higher residential density. while gentler on the environment, this brings a host of issues that more sparsely settled areas don’t have, from noise and other nuisances to parking and traffic and so on. We need more service from our code enforcement people, and this costs money. We don’t have the kind of reciprocal covenants that newer subdivisions have, so to encourage the kind of residents who like orderly neighborhoods like suburban subdivisions to live in the city, we need design/development review staff and zoning staff and the like. Because we have the social problems of the area to deal with, we have to have a lot more police, housing and other service staff. All this while dealing with the legislature’s mandatory tax cap. We can’t raise taxes even if we wanted to. I do.
    So we need the best we can possibly afford. Bad decisions were made with respect to financial staff hires and financial oversight. Far too often, pet projects that don’t deal with the real problems the city faces are funded, because individually they don’t seem like all that much.
    Nonetheless, the hyperbole surrounding the pay increases for city staff needs to be dialed down. I can suggest that some of the highly paid individuals are not justified–perhaps if you match up jobs with what I cited as important functions, and add in the function of liaison between citizens and city staff–since most citizens have not made a study as I have to figure out whom to call–you can figure out who I don’t think needed a pay raise, or to be hired.
    But people who don’t struggle with the issues of in-town living day-to-day are in a poor position to judge what is or is not excessive.

Comments are closed.