It turns out that Colorado Springs city employees make a pretty good wage.
After 18 months of study, two consultants, and a review of every city job description and salary, Colorado Springs found that it pays its employees 1 percent, on average, below the market - and that includes comparison to private-sector jobs.
Of the city's 1,100 civilian employees, 47 will get a raise this September - pending City Council approval - to bring up their salaries to match the going market rate for their job descriptions. In addition, another 371 employees will get a raise taking into account their experience on the job so that new, incoming employees don't make more than they do.
"I was shocked," said council member Merv Bennett. "I thought we would be 10 percent behind."
The rest of the city employees may see a raise in 2014, when base salaries get adjusted. However, those adjustments have not been set, only recommended. And the city is developing a merit pay increase program based on performance. Some employees may have a shot at a raise of up to a 4.5 percent. The merit pay increase program depends on how the 2014 budget shakes out, said Mike Sullivan, director of human resources. Mayor Steve Bach expects to present his 2014 budget recommendations in October.
Nearly two years ago, the city set out to do "a total compensation study" led by Sullivan and the city's chief of staff Laura Neumann. Bach, they said, wanted to know how Colorado Springs compared to other cities and whether the city was able to compete in attracting, hiring and retaining employees. City employees have not received a raise in six years.
"We wanted to be competitive," Sullivan said.
The biggest surprise uncovered by the review, said Margaret Dyekman, consultant with Corporate Compensation Services, was that the city was competitive when it came to civilian salaries.
"Anytime you are within plus or minus 5 percent of the market, you are paying competitively," Dyekman said.
The city will need to make adjustments to its salary structure, she said. Overall, the city was not lagging other cities or employers of its size, services and geography.
However, Dyekman said the city should consider adjusting the salary structure by about 2 percent a year to keep up with the market.
"The world is moving ahead," she said. "We typically see pay structure move a couple of percent each year."
Colorado Springs police and fire employees were not as high on the pay scale. Earlier this year, the city's compensation review found its police and firefighters were not paid as well as their counterparts in other cities of the same size. Police officers' salaries were 4.6 percent below the market rate and fire employees were paid 7.4 percent below market.
The lower salaries were affecting the departments' recruiting efforts, Police Chief Pete Carey said in May.
City council approved $1.4 million from its reserve to cover raises for the city's police and fire employees, which were about 4.6 percent, on average, for police and 7.4 percent, on average, for fire employees.
City Council will be asked in September to take $852,066 from the city's reserve fund to cover the raises of the civilian employees. There also will be changes to the city employee benefits, which will result in the city saving about $2.4 million per year.
Bennett said the proposed salary structure is fair.
"Now we can move forward in a consistent manner updating each year," he said. "It positions us to keep outstanding employees, and be an employer of choice."