SALISBURY – The City of Salisbury will receive an outsider’s opinion on how its employee pay/compensation structure compares to today’s market.

In second reading, the ordinance on the table was to approve funds to cover the city’s cost for a pay/compensation and classification study, which comes to about $44,000. The city has contracted with Evergreen Solutions, LLC to perform the study to determine if salaries and compensation packages are competitive in the labor market.

City employee Ann Konopik came before the council this week questioning the expenditure when the council turned down public work employees’ request for a 2-percent raise last fall.

“It was explained very thoroughly and completely why sustainability was an issue and why it [raise] wasn’t ok,” Konopik said. “So why are we paying $44,000 for a pay study that we are not going to be able to sustain?”

Council President Terry Cohen explained the study expense is a one-time charge compared to raises across the board that would have to be paid over time.

“We could give it one year and take it back the next but that is really a bad way of doing business,” Cohen said.

Cohen furthered the study is needed to evaluate Salisbury’s position in what employees are currently being paid compared to today’s market.

“We have had a lot of changes in the economy over the last few years, and we want to know if we are still in the ballpark or if we are underpaying some positions dramatically compared to other counterparts in the market, or are we overpaying,” Cohen said. “So that we would have justification to the taxpayers to say, this is what an objective source came back to us and told us would be a comparable rate to be paying.”

Konopik responded she now understood the need for the study but in the meantime the morale among city employees has become a concern for many.

“It has been a tough recessionary period for a lot of people across the board … we understand where the employees are coming from, but at the same time our taxpayers are taking hits as well, so we want to be sure that we can figure out what the levels should be and how to sustain them,” Cohen said.

As she has in the past, Councilwoman Laura Mitchell said at this week’s meeting she was not in support of the study and would rather direct the dollars to fund it toward giving raises to employees.

“There is a difference in how we sustain it versus a one-time cost but in my mind I have no doubt what the employees have sustained over the last several years with furloughs and increases in pension costs and health care costs, and increases in costs in general of what they are spending, that they deserve a raise,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell added the council decided against raising the tax rate to the constant yield last year, which would have kept taxpayers’ bills at the same level, and instead some taxpayers saw a decrease in taxes.

“While that may be fine, it is dipping into our revenues and our ability to fund the city and I just think that is irresponsible,” she said.

Councilwoman Shanie Shields was in favor of the pay/compensation classification study because the system had not been evaluated at all during her tenure on the council dating back to 2005.

“If the study says that we are supposed to do the right thing by the employees and we don’t, to me that is a slap in our valuable asset, which is the employees,” Shields said. “Our taxpayers have to realize that if you want services that bad word comes up [taxes]. Things are going up every year in the city, everything is going up, so how do we pay for the services if everything is going up, that is reality folks.”

Council Vice President Deborah Campbell responded raising taxes will be done only if it is absolutely necessary.

“I don’t know what the study will say, but what I do know is this will give us a rational basis, a tool without emotion, to look at our employees and our taxpayers and say, this is why the salaries are what they are,” Campbell said.

Campbell added there are contributing factors when it comes to contemplating raises, such as turnover. Last September it was brought to the council’s attention the police department was spending thousands to recruit and train an officer when a position became vacant due to an officer that had already been recruited and trained by Salisbury leaving to work for a competing entity that provided higher pay/compensation.

In turn, the police department’s budget received a significant boost to raise officer salaries. It was at that time that other departments, like public works, questioned their own salaries and requested raises.

“I am anxious for the outcome of this survey so we can put this to bed and we talk honestly and openly with our employees, and so we can talk honestly and openly with our taxpayers on how and why we structure city salaries the way that we do,” Campbell said.

The council voted 4-1, with Mitchell opposed, to move the budget amendment forward in its final reading to fund the pay/compensation study.