Underpaid Salem City employees’ salaries to go up due to pay study



Photo by Meg Hibbert
Consultant T.L. Cox, center, discusses pay study details with Salem City Council and staff in a Feb. 26 work session. With him, from left, are Councilmember Jane Johnson, City Manager Kevin Boggess, Councilmember James Martin, Mayor Randy Foley and Councilmember Jim Chisom.


Many City of Salem employees who are underpaid – according to what workers in comparable jobs in other localities are making – will soon be getting more money. That could come as early as their April paychecks, with more possible after July 1, city officials say.

During a work session before the Feb. 26 Salem City Council meeting, Councilmembers got results of a salary and pay study the city hired Minnesota consulting firm Springsted to do.

T.L. Cox, Springsted Vice President, and Rebecca Dayton, project manager, presented results that showed 148 of the city’s 475 staff positions’ pay fall below the recommended pay grade for their jobs. The recommended pay grades were developed after studying what other localities and regional agencies are paying for the same jobs.

Also, 320 positions are within the area pay range, and seven are above it, according to the study shown to council Monday night. Employees were due to receive pay grade numbers Wednesday after press time.

The Springsted report presented three options to address the salary discrepancies. The first was to move to employees below the minimum for the pay grade to the minimum; the second option was up to a two percent increase, and the last option, up to a .5 percent increase per year in the position.

It was Council’s first look at the report, and Councilmembers have taken no action yet. Only department directors have seen the proposed pay plan so far, but employees know the city is studying pay, according to Human Resources Director Beth Rodgers.

“It’s been a transparent process,” Rodgers said. “We’ve been very open, fair and consistent. This has not been done behind closed doors.” She added the proposed pay plan was distributed to directors last week.

Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess told councilmembers partial pay increases would be implemented in the first payroll in April, April 13, with additional money probably starting July 1.

“My preference is we find a way to make certain everybody gets a little something,” Boggess said.

In answer to Councilman Jim Chisom’s question of “When was the last time raises actually happened?” Boggess answered, “Probably seven years.”

The pay grades handed out to council Monday night range from the highest paid, Salem’s chief of police, director of electric utility and director of finance at grade 34, $82,219 minimum and maximum, $132,373.

They go through all the categories in descending order all the way down to laborers at $22,816 minimum and $36,734 maximum; custodians $21,524 minimum and $34,655 maximum, and food and beverage service workers, $20,306 minimum and $32,639 maximum.

Like most government pay grades, employees are eligible for higher pay based on number of years of employment as well other qualifications.

City leaders hired the consulting firm to do the pay study with the idea of raising salaries which had been frozen for a number of years during the latest recession and to implement a new structure to provide more competitive compensation.

Boggess said the city’s improved economy allows Salem to improve the salaries. Phase 1 is “addressing the worst first, those underpaid.” Phase 2 as recommended could raise salaries .25 percent per year per position.

The localities Springsted used as a comparison were Bedford Regional Water Authority, Botetourt County, Roanoke City, Montgomery County private sector, Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Western Virginia Water Authority and Salem Public Schools, T.L. Cox said.

He explained his firm had a job summary for every job they compared, and every position compared had to have at least three matches.

Four of the five councilmembers were present Monday night, with Vice Chairman Bill Jones absent.