Southborough re-examining town employee compensation

Above: Presentation of a recent compensation study contracted by the Personnel Board (posted to You Tube by Southborough Access Media)

Town boards are concerned by a study that casts Southborough’s as an uncompetitive employer. As a result, they may ask voters to raise personnel salary ranges.

At the same time, Town officials hope to move towards more merit-based compensation.

The Personnel Board is examining how Southborough personnel are paid compared to other towns. It’s an exercise required every five years by the Town’s Salary Administration Plan. This time, the board was surprised to discover that Southborough’s ranges were well below market.

The study was explored at a January BOS Meeting and a Personnel Board Meeting the following night.

Personnel Board Chair Stephen Morreale told the Board of Selectmen that 5-6 employees’ salaries are below minimum market ranges. He estimated that simply bringing them up to minimum (without any merit increase) would cost $17,000. And that doesn’t address bringing any employees closer to their salary mid-ranges.

Selectman John Rooney was concerned about discrepancies for certain outstanding employees. The selectman suggested:

You identify those key employees and you want to make darn sure that their compensation is consistent with the external market.

But Rooney and Selectman Dan Kolenda also pushed for changing to merit-based raises. Kolenda insisted it would have demonstrable effect on performance and retention: 

All this costs money, but the payoff to our employees, and I think to our residents, will be significant.

It’s something Morrealle said the Personnel Board hopes to move towards. But he wasn’t sure how soon they could implement change. They are considering options including a merit pool for raises or merit bonuses.

Many of the decisions will ultimately be up to Town Meeting voters. Changes to salary ranges would need their approval, as would any resulting budget increases.

Consultants from HRGov, which conducted the study, recommended changes to the salary scale, grading system and several revamped job titles.

As of the meetings, the Personnel Board hadn’t decided what to address at Town Meeting this April. Members were still asking HRGov for more information and planning more meetings.

In discussing voter support for increased salary ranges, Morrealle indicated that he knew they would have to make a clear case. BOS Chair Bill Boland was concerned about residents’ response. He imagined someone who’d been laid off for months asking why town employees deserved increases.

Boland also pushed for private sector salaries. He said it’s something that residents will ask for.

HRGov’s rep argued that business data is hard to get and not helpful. She explained they don’t share it, because they don’t have to. Then she pointed to differences in benefits and lack of comparable jobs for most positions. She also claimed that the competing market for town employees is usually other towns.

Rooney pushed for actual salaries instead of ranges for comparison. HRGov’s rep told Morrealle that ranges are a better indicator.

To keep on top of the market going forward, the consultant also recommended re-considering salary range annually. She said officials could check in with other towns to find out if they are increasing their ranges.

The last study Southborough conducted was five years ago. Morreale told selectmen that past study results had been a source of contention. Employees asserted that the comparable salaries didn’t match what they saw on the market. So this year, the board undertook a more thorough study.

In the past, they compared to 5-6 surrounding towns. This year, their consultants selected 12 towns based on size, per capita income and other factors. HRGov also interviewed employees to better understand important job criteria.

If you are interested in the discussion at the Board of Selectmen meeting, it isn’t available through You Tube. But you can open it through SAM’s Government Channel website by clicking here. (The discussion takes place beginning 1:08 into the meeting.) The referenced report begins on page 21 of the meeting packet.

Updated (2/12/15 8:53 am): I added above link to the report.

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