If money talks, county commissioners are concerned that government salaries make them sound cheap.
More important, some Augusta commissioners are worried that county wage policies discourage in-house candidates from applying for promotions. Human resource officials say some employees believe salary schedules favor outside hires and shortchange those already working for the city.
At its Tuesday meeting, the Augusta Commission asked City Administrator Randy Oliver to research the current wage scale and present the results of his study to the Administrative Services Committee next month.
As it stands, city policy mandates that existing employees who are promoted receive either a 15 percent raise or the minimum of the salary range for the new job, whichever is greater.
Outside hires can negotiate a salary up to 10 percent above the minimum hiring rate.
"Deep inside, there's a message: If it's worth `X' amount of dollars for someone outside the system, then it should be worth the same amount within the system," said Commissioner Willie Mays, who is among those who support efforts to re-evaluate wage policies. "It's something our county employees have discussed for a while."
Human Resources Manager Robby Burns said Wednesday he is pleased that discussions to improve the pay scale have begun.
"There's been rumblings about this for a while," Mr. Burns said.
And former Human Resources Director John Etheridge - who wrote a scathing letter of resignation prior to leaving last month - was an avid supporter of a revamped reimbursement system.
"I echo this from Mr. Etheridge," Mr. Burns said. "We often thought that for management positions, when you reach a certain salary grade, you should be able to negotiate your salary."
Internal and external candidates can request a salary of 11 percent or more above the minimum pay, but the higher rate requires special approval from commissioners.
The city's employee handbook says the compensation policies "provide administrative guidance" for compliance with the Fair Labor Standards and Civil Rights acts.
"Whenever you deal with salaries, in somebody's mind you will be wrong," Mr. Oliver said.
One of the options that could come before the commission next month is eliminating the 15 percent or minimum salary range completely, although that is not something that is likely to be recommended by the city administrator.
"We will be bringing back to commissioners a menu of options," Mr. Oliver said. "They may elect to do one, or another or a combination."
He also will determine the cost effectiveness of each alternative.
"I don't think it's a good idea just to allow anybody to negotiate anything within a salary range," Mr. Oliver said. "There needs to be guidelines and procedures to allow it to be fair and equitable."
Another option would be to allow department directors to negotiate their salaries, while keeping policy in place for other employees.
"Department heads expose themselves in a way line employees do not, and I think it's appropriate, no matter where they come from, that the salary should be negotiable between commissioners and the candidate," Mayor Bob Young said. "You cannot, however, bring that down. If you do that, you throw the whole salary schedule out of whack."
In lieu of negotiable salaries, the mayor supports providing other incentives for county employees, such as education and training, that would make them more qualified for future promotions.
"People should come to city government expecting a career," Mr. Young said. "If you can grow people into a position, then you don't have to worry about skewing the salaries."
Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.
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