City’s pay study is worth the money

It might seem odd, and maybe a conflict of priorities, that the city is dishing out $300,000 for a study of how much municipal employees should be getting paid.

But according to the City Council, it’s an exercise that is long overdue.

Last week, council members approved hiring Segal Company Western States Inc., a New York-based consulting firm, to conduct a comprehensive review of Fort Wort’s classification and compensation system.

Such studies are a typical practice of large companies, nonprofits and municipalities. They seek to ensure that employers are paying salaries that are competitive and fair — maximizing retention and minimizing overpayment.

They look at a variety of factors, from education to management experience, to determine if individual job classifications accurately reflect the work being done. They also compare compensation rates to cities of similar size and structure.

The last time the city conducted a pay study was in 1995, the results of which are the basis for the pay scales currently used by Fort Worth.

But in the almost two decades since, a lot has changed for Fort Worth.

It’s now the 17th largest city in the nation, and the cost of living for city residents has been rising for years. But city employees haven’t had a pay raise since the one included in the fiscal 2011 budget.

Brian Dickerson, director of human resources for the city, worries that many city staff are trapped in pay grades at which they were hired.

“We believe there are certain areas where we are behind the market,” he said. That can cause inequities within the system that can affect morale and increase attrition if employees can find better compensation elsewhere.

But the consultant’s report, due early next year, could recommend compensation rates that the city, which has suffered from budget shortfalls since 2008, can’t afford.

Still, the council’s approval also coincided with the approval of efforts by Dickerson and staff to negotiate contracts with benefits providers that would reduce costs without diluting benefits levels for employees.

Retaining a strong city staff is important, especially as Fort Worth grows by leaps and bounds. And Dickerson’s confidence that the study will result in sustainable salary recommendations that will benefit the city and its employees is reassuring.