A litany of concerns over salary ranges and the exclusion of the village manager – all under the backdrop of a startling report that warns of massive impending budget woes – led the Ridgewood Village Council to postpone a vote on a pair of ordinances that would freeze employee salaries but allow for "merit" increases.
The dual ordinances – 3364 and 3365 – would lock salaries for non-union staff and management at a flat zero percent increase in both 2012 and 2013 but allow for up to 1.9 percent of salary in incentive raises for each year.
Village Manager Ken Gabbert would determine the merit compensation, drawn from a pool of over $34,000, he said. The bonuses would impact pension obligations. Unionized employees under collective bargaining agreements wouldl not be impacted by these agreements.
Ridgewood enacted the program in 2011, with several staff and council members hailing it as the new wave of private-sector influenced model of compensation. The previous incarnation of the ordinances allowed for employees to receive up to 4.0 percent of salary in each year, more than half of what's currently proposed.
But the 2013 effort was frought with questions from council members.
Gabbert should be eligible for bonus, councilman says
Councilman Tom Riche, a supporter of the overall model, said excluding Gabbert from the pool reeks of inequality.
"My objection to both these ordinances is the village manager has been excluded and targeted to not participate in this," he said. "I think this ordinance, specifically 3365, fails the fairness test and I think if we're going to tie this across the board all employees should be included in it."
Gabbert had not been included in the previous incentive program ordinances, but did in 2011.
Impact of salary changes needs to be seen
The concerns Riche had over the ordinances ran a stark contrast to that of Deputy Mayor Albert Pucciarelli.
"It's very important that this council and future councils keep a very close eye on salaries in the village," he said. "It's the biggest portion where we have any flexibility and we don't even have that much flexibility."
The village also has to be "fair" to employees, he said, noting that some will be more impacted by the ordinances than others.
Some of the salary schedules – the range in which employees can be paid in base salary – have increased.
Pucciarelli requested that the council members be able to see exactly how the salary scales would increase based on the merit bonuses issued. He spoke of concerns brought up in the Tiger Team report.
No guarantee employees receive full bonus, history shows
Payments issued in 2011 are likely a good indicator that not all eligible for the increases will receive the full bonus compensation. A Patch analysis of payments in 2010 and 2011 saw the average for 23 employees was 2.0 percent, half of what was possible.
One employee, Peter Taylor of parking enforcement, received a big fat zero, while another, Court Administrator Maria Doerr, received 3.75 percent.
Salary cycle must change
If the village is to break the cycle of issuing big upswings in its salary scales, a new approach must be taken, Councilwoman Gwenn Hauck said. The notion of having non-union employees compete with unionized workers – receiving annual salary increases of nearly 4 percent – for compensation catch-up perpetuates a "broken structure," Pucciarelli said.
The same can be said for rising salaries of the top paid employees of the village, another member added.
"I don't think the way you do it is to add more and more to the top to continually escalate costs," Councilwoman Gwenn Hauck said. "I just don't think that's a solution to the problem. There are other ways we have to address it."
Bernadette Walsh saw things differently when it came to appropriate pay scales.
"I'm strongly of the opinion that if employees dedicate themselves to the village we have a responsibility to make them feel they can have a career here," she said. "All of us in business want to have a career."
Ordinance at odds with 'Tiger Team' recs
Regardless of the indvidual concerns of the council members, the ordinances fly in the face of recommendations made by the volunteer village finance team (known as the "Tiger Team").
To avert a collision course with massive property tax increases, the group advocates for a merit-based system, with employees receiving up to $15,000 per year at the highest level. The total pool recommended is $1.2 million per year, a monstrous gulf from the existing ordinance proposals.
But the recommendations also call on the village to make seismic changes in the salaries it pays employees, pension obligations, healthcare givebacks and how quickly employees can reach higher pay scales.
The ordinances as presented allows for longevity payments to increase base pay (not recommended by the Tiger Team), a full 15 sick days per year that can be carried over the years (currently a $7 million liability), and no changes in the health care benefits as required by law (though many employees will now need to pay up to 35 percent of health care costs according to a sliding scale as a result of state laws).
Starting salaries for new employees would be lowered under the Tiger Team's recommendations, some drastically. To provide some perks, new employees would be eligible for higher annual salary increases and greater merit pay. (Note: collective bargaining agreements are not factored into 3364 and 3365.)
Police chiefs could start as low as $85,000 if the Tiger Team's recs are followed, though recommendations have them making more than any suboordinate.
In the salary ordinances, the police chief would make $190,000 (or $500 more than anyone beneath them). The Village Manager could score up to $210,000, according to the ordinance.
Ultimately, the council's range of questions has delayed a vote until at least Feb. 13. There's good reason to believe the complexity of concerns will push the vote back even further.