City pay raise issue worth discussion

Mount Airy commissioners recently adopted the 2015-2016 budget, with no tax increases, water or sewer rate hikes. This is good news for city residents.

After months of working on the budget, the one point of contention that remained as the board members discussed the spending plan was a 3 percent acorss-the-board cost-of-living raise included in City Manager Barbara Jones’ budget proposal.

Commissioner Shirley Brinkley voiced the most concern with the raise, even casting the lone vote against the budget because of the projected wage increase. She took issue with the idea of across-the-board pay increases, instead advocating for merit-based pay bumps.

“I have heard you say many times that you have an excellent staff and department heads and they work hard and do a good job — I agree with you,” Brinkley said to Jones. “But Barbara, this is what they are hired to — a good job — otherwise they should not be here.”

Brinkley is absolutely right on target. When an employer, be it the city, another government entity, or a private sector business, hires a person they have a reasonable expectation that employee will do a good job. No one hires a worker hope for average, or decent, work. They want good, even excellent, work and the employee should expect to be held to this standard.

There should be financial reward, through payraises or bonuses, for those who far exceed those expectations, rather than lumping them in with the other workers.

Still, we have no problem with the city giving an across-the-board payraise to its employees. When an employee hires someone and offers a given salary, the employer is stating it places a certain, defined value on the work from that position, and the employee is agreeing to give good — even excellent — service for that pay rate.

Over time, as insurance and health care costs increase, along with the small but steady climb of inflation, an employee is getting an effective pay cut each year if the employer doesn’t do something to enhance compensation. Essentially, the employer is expecting the same level of service but paying less for it. Therefore, the concept of some sort of cost-of-living pay bump isn’t inappropriate, either.

What we would have liked to have seen, and perhaps the city could hold this in its back pocket for the next budget cycle, is a combination of cost-of-living across-the-board increases along with merit pay hikes.

Perhaps the city could set aside the equivalent of the money that would be spent on a 3-percent pay hike for all employees. Maybe give a 1 to 2 percent pay raise for all employees from this money, then use the rest judiciously for additional pay bumps for those few who truly excel above expectations.

This would cost the city no more money, would help keep all employees even with general inflation pressures, while also providing motivation to, and rewards for, going above the normal expectation of excellence among city staff.

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