Tablet Local

Fort Worth council OKs study of jobs, pay

City employees have gone so long without raises that the City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the hiring of a consultant for $300,000 to study how much they should get paid.

In the last seven years, general employees have received one across-the-board, 3 percent increase. Since 2009, the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s consumer price index, or the amount consumers pay for goods, has increased 7.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We have a lot of employees who have been trapped at the same rate that they were basically hired in at,” said Brian Dickerson, director of human resources, of what prompted the study.

“Since then, we have hired employees above them, because we had to pay a current market rate to get them. So we have some inequities within the system and we need to figure out how are we going to deal with these.”

Mayor Pro Tem W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman said the studies are common in the private industry and that the city is probably “well past due” in conducting one.

“When you go that long without raises, that is bad news. The good news is probably all comparable cities did the same thing, so you probably didn't get too far out of step,” Zimmerman said.

“But it is a good thing to go baseline now that we are getting to the point where we have a little merit money, to see where we fit and what we might need to do to make sure all our employees are where they need to be.”

The last employee pay raise was in fiscal year 2011. City employees also have faced staffing cuts, furloughs and layoffs as the city eliminated 512 positions between fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2014, largely because of budget shortfalls since the 2008 recession.

Mayor Betsy Price, who is on vacation and cycling in The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, was absent from the meeting.

2015 budget outlook

This year’s budget outlook is brighter, said Aaron Bovos, the city’s chief financial officer. But the hoped-for raises that the council tempted general employees with last year are still not a sure thing.

Last year, when approving the fiscal year 2014 budget, the council urged city department heads to find $5 million in savings to fund merit raises of 3 to 5 percent.

Bovos said the question is if those savings “happened or not.”

“The annualized cost for the proposed merit increases are included in the 2015 budget as it sits right now,” Bovos said. But the “piece that is still left to be determined” is if the departments delivered those savings, he said.

The projected sales tax revenue for fiscal year 2015 is $126 million, an increase of 4 percent over the 2014 budget, and the projected net taxable value for property taxes is up 3.8 percent, at $46 billion.

Bovos said the staff will present a balanced budget to the council at its Aug. 12 meeting. The council is scheduled to approve the budget Sept. 16.

Compensation study

The council approved hiring Segal Company Western States Inc., headquartered in New York City, to conduct the study. The results should be back in January or February, Dickerson said.

“We believe it is going to take us several years to work our way out of this,” Dickerson said. “If they come back and say, ‘You need $5 million to address it,’ well, the city doesn’t have $5 million. It took us a few years to get into this, so it will take us a few years to get out.”

Currently, hourly city employees are on a step pay system, where they expect raises for years of service. But, Dickerson said, the goal is to move to a merit-based pay increase system for all general employees.

Dickerson said employees think their jobs are classified incorrectly — for example, their job should be classified as a senior administrative assistant as opposed to an administrative assistant — so the consultants will also look at job classifications.

The consultants will evaluate seven factors: education needed; experience; management and supervision; human collaboration skills; freedom to act; technical skills; fiscal responsibility and working conditions.

The city’s current classification and compensation system is based on a similar study conducted in 1995 in which Fort Worth was compared to other cities. Among the cities in that study was Tallahassee, Fla., which has a population of 187,000, compared with Fort Worth’s 778,000, Dickerson said.

“I don’t mind Tallahassee being in there, but I need to know why,” Dickerson said. “I need to tell employees, ‘These are the 15 cities we compare to and this is why we compare to them.’ ”

City Council briefs

•  The council approved 8-0, with Mayor Betsy Price absent, incorporating the Cavile Place/Historic Stop Six Neighborhood Transformation Plan into the city’s comprehensive plan. That is the first step in acting on a proposed $112 million in improvements, which include razing the housing and rebuilding on site, said Councilwoman Gyna Bivens, who represents the area.

Funding has not been set aside for the plan, which was drawn up by the Fort Worth Housing Authority and the Fort Worth Housing Finance Corp. The plan was approved by the Fort Worth Housing Authority board in June 2013.

• Some council members were not receptive to the Fort Worth Art Commission’s draft plan presented Tuesday, especially with the idea of pooling money to create an “iconic” Fort Worth project.

Councilman Danny Scarth said his district does not have a planned public art project at all in the plan, and Councilman Jungus Jordan said he was was frustrated that the $3.8 million Chisholm Trail Park was not included for art funding.

“I, in no way, intend to allow us to be deceptive in what we do in the implementation stage,” Jordan said.

— Caty Hirst