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City of Roswell introduces draft salary plan; Initiative is meant to improve budget planning and employee retention

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The "grade and step" salary plan being discussed for the city of Roswell's 600 or so employees is meant to stabilize budget planning and improve the city's ability to attract and retain staff, says City Manager Joe Neeb, shown at an August public forum. (Trevier Gonzalez Photo)

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The city of Roswell, one of the area’s largest employers, is working on developing a new salary plan to create more certainty for employees and budget planners and to improve employee recruitment and retention.

City Manager Joe Neeb said a sound salary plan — one that defines how pay is determined and provides for increases in pay as expertise grows and living costs go up — serves the larger interests of the city.

“A directive from the City Council was to stabilize the budget by living within our means and continue providing exceptional services to the citizens of Roswell,” Neeb said in an email interview. “The city employees are paramount to this directive of providing exceptional services. The city has a responsibility to provide appropriate wages to its employees and in return has the expectation of quality service.”

He added that a revised policy will help the city better allocate resources for priorities by enabling it to project budget increases.

Neeb made a presentation at a Monday meeting of the City Council Finance Committee. The committee gave approval for Neeb to continue the conceptual planning and budget calculations and to determine employee reaction to the ideas.

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Finance Committee Chair Caleb Grant said that the city has been engaged for years in the effort to make salaries competitive with other cities in the area and to compensate employees sufficiently so that they will remain in city employment.

As Neeb pointed out, the average tenure of the city’s employees, which number about 660, is 8.11 years. “Our goal for maintaining a quality staff to serve Roswell is 12 to 13 years,” he said. “One of our biggest challenges and where we hope to stabilize and grow in years of service are in police and fire (departments).”

Current pay policies have eight step increases to boost people’s pay as they gain skills and expertise and only a 23 percent average difference between minimum pay and maximum pay for a position. The proposed plan calls for at least 15 step increases and was recommended at the committee meeting to be increased to 20 steps, with a 40 percent difference between minimum and maximum pay.

“We get a lot of of employees who max out,” said Grant, “so (the current plan) is not broad enough to serve them from the time they join until they reach retirement.”

Grant said that the plan is also meant to ensure that pay does not fall as far behind the New Mexico market as it was in 2015, when a 18.4 percent increase in base pay for city employees and a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase was needed to bring city of Roswell pay up to levels comparable with other county and municipal government employees.

“We hope next time in the next seven to 10 years when we do the next salary survey, we will not be in a position where we have to increase pay that much,” Grant said.

Neeb said that the plan itself does not mean salary increases will occur, and certainly no employees will see decreased pay as a result. Instead the “Grade and Step” plan “establishes a minimum salary, a maximum salary and a method for an employee to advance in wages for each job description in the city organization,” he said.

It is also intended that a plan will stabilize budget processes enough that full annual cost-of-living increases can be given to keep salaries competitive. Neeb added that some members of the Finance Committee recommended giving employees a 0.5 percent increase in January so that city employees could receive the full 2.0 percent increase this fiscal year instead of only the 1.5 percent previously approved.

Although about 50 percent of employees belong to unions and will engage in salary negotiations outside of the city plan, Neeb indicated that he has reached out to unions to include them in the planning process. Negotiations with unions often use the city’s salary plans as a basis for their bargaining requests, he said.

At least one union, the Utility Workers of America, had a representative at Monday’s meeting to listen to the presentation. The union represents about 140 water, wastewater, sewer, street and utility workers for the city.

“It can’t apply to our members,” said union special counsel Mark Brooks, who added that the union is reviewing the plan now and continues to work against any “downgrading” in overall compensation for its members. “We are in agreement that there is often a loss of skilled workers in Roswell to other cities, so one thing we have been interested in working with the city on are efforts to help retain qualified workers.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.