The Columbus Consolidated Government is close to implementing a $13 million pay plan that would raise salaries for more than 2,000 city employees.
Columbus councilors could cast their final votes on the plan as early as Oct. 25 after they gave initial approval for the project in early September. If passed, the pay plan would take effect sometime before July 1, 2023 — the end of this fiscal year.
The new plan would ensure that all full-time city employees make more than $15 an hour. However, support among city employees is not universal. In emails to city leaders and during public comments at meetings, government employees expressed frustration with the proposal.
One of several concerns is that some longtime employees won’t be rewarded for all their years of service. The pay increases are based on the date employees started in their current position rather than the date they were hired. That leaves veteran employees who recently received promotions with smaller pay bumps, and a member of the council who spoke with the Ledger-Enquirer said the body wants to address this before the plan receives final approval.
Roughly 500 employees have filed appeals and the appeals process is ongoing. Here’s where the proposal currently stands.
The city last conducted a workforce pay study in 2006 with help from the University of Georgia. Talks about a new pay study began in 2021. Florida-based consulting firm Evergreen Solutions was chosen for the project, and the group collected information in March 2022.
The firm reviewed current pay study information and found that:
Evergreen also compared Columbus’ salaries to other city and county governments like Augusta; LaGrange; Chattanooga, Tennessee and others. In its survey, the firm found that Columbus was paying less than its peers after cost of living adjustments were made.
Evergreen found 89 positions within peer governments that it could compare against Columbus’ jobs.
Of those 89 positions, 62 were below the market minimum.
Employees in Columbus’ current pay plan are:
About 300 full-time employees make less than $15 an hour under the current plan, city human resources director Reather Hollowell told the L-E.
Under the proposed plan, more than 2,200 employees would see some sort of pay increase. Suggested pay for public safety and jobs requiring a commercial drivers license would be set above and beyond market rates.
More than 1,100 general government employees would receive an average pay increase of more than $5,200, and just over 1,000 public safety employees would receive an average pay increase of roughly $7,000. Garbage truck drivers would make at least $21 dollars an hour.
Only 300 employees would receive an increase of 1% or less. No employee would receive a zero percent increase, and no salaries would be reduced, Hollowell said.
Each year, city workers would receive at least a one-step pay increase, and the council could approve larger increases if it’s a good year economically.
Public safety employees would receive $5,000 sign-on bonuses spread over a two-year period. It would replace the current $2,000 bonus. They would also receive one-step pay increases at milestone anniversaries — years three, five, seven, 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30.
The city set aside $10 million in this year’s budget to implement the study, but it would cost roughly $13 million to implement. Several suggestions to make up the difference, including an increase in garbage collection fees, were floated. However, city officials are now proposing that $3 million in budget reserves be used to fund the plan.
The proposal includes a cap preventing employees from receiving more than a 25% increase. The only exception would be for employees who need to be brought to their new pay grade’s minimum, Hollowell said.
The city’s pay scale for full-time employees runs from grades G6 to G29. General government employees in grades G6-G13 currently make anywhere from just under $25,000 to nearly $55,000. Under the new pay plan, these employees would see the largest average pay percentage increase — around 19%, according to city data.
But the city’s highest salaried employees would also receive raises too. City manager Isaiah Hugley’s current salary is around $191,000. Under the new pay plan, his salary would be around $207,000, Hollowell told the Ledger-Enquirer.
The Ledger-Enquirer requested a copy of the proposed pay plan that shows the current and newly suggested salary for each city employee. Hollowell said the city will not provide this information because the appeals process isn’t complete.
Hollowell told the L-E that 476 employees submit appeals. Of those, 230 requested corrections to information tied to their employment that could affect their new salary.
In addition to the appeals, Hollowell said that Evergreen and city staff are working out how to address education incentives for sworn peace officers in the new plan.
Before 2006, officers got 5% added to their base pay for bachelor’s degrees and another 5% for master’s degrees. When the current pay plan was implemented in 2006, the 5% education incentive was given to officers separate from their salary.
The incentive for officers who got these degrees before 2006 would be “lost” under the newly proposed plan, Hollowell said. The city wants to make sure those officers receive benefits. It’s unclear how much this may cost or how many officers are affected.
Hollowell said she hopes the pay plan will come back before the council this month. However, Columbus Councilor Charmaine Crabb told the L-E there are several matters councilors want to address before putting it up for a final vote.
Among them is rewarding city employees for the number of years they’ve served. It’s unclear what form that might take.
Of the emails Crabb said council members have received regarding the pay plan, most have been from employees who recently received promotions. They are receiving smaller increases because they recently changed positions.
“We have to figure out how we can compensate these people for all these different things that we feel they should be compensated for and still remain within budget. It’s tricky,” she said. “Council doesn’t want to be rushed on this. …We want to make the right decision. We’ll take as much time as we need to get this right.
“There are certain things that we don’t feel are being accomplished in this pay plan. We just have a little more work,” Crabb added. “(City staff and council) are working together on this.”
Hollowell said the city chose to base the pay increases on when workers took their current position rather than when the city first hired them because the budget for this project is limited.
“We have to be able to implement but also sustain it,” she said. “It’s going to take a while for us to catch up and get to, ideally, where we’d like to be. …We have a lot of very tenured employees for 10,15, 20 — even 40 plus years. But to be able to give them credit (for) all of their tenures has been unaffordable.”
This story was originally published October 17, 2022 8:00 AM.