Missouri City City Council decided in a 5-2 vote April 5 to not move forward with a change to the city’s pay plan for employees.
The proposed change would move all city employees except the city manager from a minimum-median-maximum pay structure to a defined pay progression plan.
If adopted, the defined pay progression plan would have provided each employee a 2.5% incremental increase to their base pay annually so long as they have met expectations during their evaluation, Assistant City Manager Bill Atkinson said during the April 5 meeting.
Atkinson said City Council would still control employee compensation through the budget process, and step increases could be frozen or reduced if the funding is not available.
However, Council Member Jeffrey Boney, who voted against the proposed ordinance, expressed concern over making a long-term budget commitment.
“Retention of employees and recruitment is important, but overpromising and underdelivering is also something of importance that I’ve got to consider,” Boney said. “I believe it's more a slap in the face to the staff that we make a commitment to them ... and then tell them we won’t be giving them that for whatever reason. To me we would lose more employees and credibility if we did that.”
Still, Financial Services Director Allena Portis said using current revenue projections, the city would be able to afford this change.
“If the funds are there ... why not support people?” Council Member Cheryl Sterling said.
Sgt. Jay McClellan, vice president of the Missouri City Police Association, and Lt. Greg Ybarra, president of the Missouri City Professional Firefighters Association, spoke in favor of the city adopting a defined pay progression plan.
McClellan said under the current min-mid-max pay structure there are no clear guidelines for what an employee must do to move through the scale.
Regular pay increases would also help the city retain employees as they would be able to better plan their future with the city and be attractive when recruiting for future positions, both McClellan and Ybarra said.
“We look at it as an investment in your employees,” Ybarra said. “We are the ones on the front lines making sure the citizens are happy with the services provided by the city, which is a direct reflection on the council.”
In addition to enhancing recruitment and retainment efforts, City Manager Odis Jones said he believes the change would have improved staff morale, an issue identified when he was first hired last year.
“After a [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats] analysis, it became abundantly clear that the pay plan was the chief component of the dysfunction and problems with staff morale that had been going on for years in the city,” Jones said in an email.
Gallagher Benefit Services, an employee benefits and human resources consulting firm, performs a market analysis approximately every two years to ensure Missouri City salaries are competitive and recommends periodic adjustments. This year, in addition to recommending the move to a defined pay progression plan, Gallagher recommended a 3% increase in salaries to remain competitive.
Council Member Anthony Maroulis, who voted against the ordinance, said the city should focus on improving the existing min-mid-max pay structure to allow for regular promotions and pay increases. Maroulis said the city has been able to offer competitive salaries using market data and surveying through Gallagher.
“I believe that while I’ve been on council, I’ve always been supportive of everybody,” Maroulis said. “What we have here has worked, and that’s why Gallagher showed we are highly competitive.”
Council Member Floyd Emery said he felt the proposal was rolled out too quickly and said he has lingering questions about how the pay structure might address any recruitment or retainment issues.
“We are talking about a system that represents over 60% of our costs, so I think it’s incumbent that when we are doing this, we are doing it correct, and we are doing it for the right reasons,” Emery said. “This is bittersweet for me because I’ve advocated for police and fire,and staff since I’ve come on board in 2010.”
After an hour and a half of discussion, Council Members Vashaundra Edwards and Sterling supported the ordinance on the first of two required readings. However, Mayor Robin Elackatt and Council Members Lynn Clouser, Boney, Emery and Maroulis opposed it.