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Pittsfield Councilors Uncertain About Staff Raises

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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A public hearing on changing compensation for the city's staff and managers drew a small crowd.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A newly completed personnel study recommends restructuring the way city government compensates its management level employees, but members of the City Council's Committee on Ordinance & Rules say they want more information before coming to a decision.
During a 2 1/2-hour public hearing before the committee on Monday, Stone Consulting, which has been analyzing the pay scales of city department heads and other staff since 2012, said their full proposal, which includes 5 percent raises for about 50 employees, would not only invigorate the municipality's often troubled hiring process, but also move its salary approach away from step increases to a more merit-based system.
"One of the aspects that I wanted Pittsfield to look at was to create a flexibility in your pay system so that you might consider a more performance-based orientation," said consultant Rachel Brown, as opposed to a longevity system with increases based on the number of years in the position.
Mayor Daniel Bianchi, who has put forth a petition to amend the ordinance governing these personnel classifications, said the city has had a difficult time attracting and retaining qualified candidates for many upper-level positions, a situation he attributed to the pay scales of Pittsfield compared to other communities.
"It's a risk factor that we have to treat as a real concern for the future management of our city," Bianchi told the councilors.
According to the newly released Management Classification and Compensation Study, Pittsfield is paying 12 percent below the median level for comparable management professional positions in Massachusetts, even after adjusting for geographical and cost of living factors. Brown said this was done through "normalizing the data based on geographic salary  differentials," taking into account such factors as disparities in cost of housing and other living expenses throughout the state.
The petition put forth, which included making the recommended raises retroactive to 2013, would cost about $300,000 in the coming year, but would not increase the budget, as funds for eventual pay increases have been set aside in the contingency line item in past budgets.  
"The citizens have already paid their taxes for these raises," said Councilor Barry Clairmont, who is not on the subcommittee but spoke at the public hearing. "If these raises go through, we are not going to raise taxes for them, the money's already there."
Clairmont cited numerous examples of turnover in top city positions attributed to compensation, noting that in percentage of income increase compared to cost of living, management-level city employees had grown less than half as much Social Security recipients in recent years. 
"It's time to be fair to our managers, who have received far less [in increases] than any other city employee over the past 10 years," Clairmont stated.
Former Pittsfield School Committee member Terry Kinnas disagreed, saying the study lacked a variety of important data, including information on the duties and responsibilities of the employees in question and the full extent of costs, including benefits and pension liability.
According to this year's preliminary budget presentation for fiscal 2015, approximately 7 percent of the city's budget costs are in payment of pensions.
"It's not a real, solid study, it's a statistical study," said Kinnas. "How can you make an intelligent decision without going through all the information?" 
Pittsfield resident Valerie Anderson also questioned elements of the proposal, and voiced concern about potential impact on the local tax burden.
"I don't see how having a retroactive raise attracts future candidates," said Anderson, "I'm not saying that raises aren't deserved, and that our public employees don't deserve fair compensation, but this is not a fair proposal."
"The complexity of this is considerable," said Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, who voiced dissatisfaction with the amount of information provided to the committee prior to the meeting. "If you want us to act on this info, it really should be presented to us in advance."
"I really don't think I have enough info to vote on this yes or no," agreed Councilor Kathleen Amuso, who indicated that she had come to the meeting predisposed against the proposal, but was now unsure. "I think that this is expensive, and I think that some of our city employees are very underpaid, and I think that some of them may be very adequately paid."
Council President Melissa Mazzeo voiced general favor toward the raises, but questioned making them retroactive.
"I definitely understand that this is something that needs to be done," said Mazzeo. "We're trying to catch up from years of not paying at the rate that we should be."
The consultant and councilors agreed that consideration of compensation for the position of mayor should be separate from other classifications of municipal employees, and some suggested that these be reviewed along with those of other elected officials, which include the city clerk, the City Council, which is currently paid a stipend set in 1995, and the School Committee, which is not currently compensated but could potentially be under the provisions of the new city charter.
Clairmont, a frequent vocal critic of Bianchi, dismissed comments made in blogs and social media in recent days accusing Bianchi of putting the increases forth in order to give himself a raise, suggesting that under the charter, any such increase would not take effect until the next term.
"The only way this mayor would get a pay increase from this is if he runs for re-election in a year and a half from now and he gets re-elected," said Clairmont. "So the people who are out there saying the mayor is trying to give himself a pay raise, that is not true. He is not going to benefit from this."
The five councilors on the committee, who ultimately voted unanimously to table the petition to their next meeting, asked for a variety of more specific information on personnel structure, responsibilities and comparative pay scales from the consultant and Personnel Director John DeAngelo.
"This is a work in progress," according to Mazzeo, who said the council has time to get the rest of the information that it needs to further review and refine any changes. "We're not under any pressure to settle this tonight."
"I knew this was going to be a process," agreed Bianchi. "We'll get you the information you need." 

Tags: compensation & classification,   public hearing,   salaries,   

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