Following a year-long study of how well Lee’s Summit compensates its public employees, city leaders are still struggling for answers.
The Lee’s Summit City Council received a final report on the compensation study Thursday night. As was predicted in a draft report this summer, consulting firm Springsted found that, while the city’s retirement program and other benefits are quite generous, city workers on average are paid less than the market rate.
In particular, the study estimates pay for the city’s non-union employees is 10 percent below the average of 12 other governmental and private organizations surveyed. The pay for the city’s police officers and fire fighters, who are unionized, is also lagging, although the amount varies by position.
Council members were scheduled to vote on a resolution that would have begun to address the study’s findings, such as changing employee pay scales to better reflect market averages identified by the consultants.
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Instead, the council voted unanimously to table those discussions until next month after a representative of the police union challenged the accuracy of the report.
Rick Inglima, a police sergeant and president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 50, told the council his organization submitted open-record requests for salary data from many of the same organizations the consultants worked with and got different numbers from those presented in the study. In three instances that the union spot-checked, Inglima claimed the study underestimated maximum officer salaries in those areas by a combined $150,000.
“I don’t have much faith in the data that was put into this system,” he said. “We’re cops. We’re suspicious. We have to worry that there is some sort of attempt to dumb down the numbers to use in comparison.”
T.L. Cox, senior vice president for Springsted, defended the company’s methodology and said the consultant has attempted to be as transparent as possible, even going back to restudy the information for 40 positions after receiving questions from employees. Cox said that while some of the alleged errors raised by Inglima will require additional study, others simply reflect different ways to interpret the same information.
Cox acknowledged that, like in many surveys, the consultants sometimes had to grapple with poor response rates from those surveyed. In other instances, consultants combined positions with other pay ranges where they couldn’t make one-to-one comparisons. He said they received an average of six responses for 90 of the 124 jobs they researched, which he said made the study statistically valid.
“At the end of the day, we are here to discuss a salary structure that we have confidence in,” Cox said.
Still, the questions left some council members asking whether they had enough information to intelligently map out a “compensation philosophy,” including how competitive they want city salaries to be compared to other local governments. Such a decision could affect millions of dollars in the city budget.
Councilman Craig Faith said the problem may be miscommunication about the kind of information the council wanted the survey to gather and how they described the study to employees, 65 percent of whom told the consultant they didn’t believe their salaries were appropriate for their level of responsibility.
“If we can’t meet those expectations, we have a responsibility to show why we can’t meet those expectations,” Faith said. “These numbers need to be out to where everybody here agrees with them, we agree with them and everybody understands them. And that’s not where we are.”
Councilman Fred DeMoro asked whether the city could ask Springsted to try again to get data from some of the comparison cities, fill in the information gaps and recalculate the salary ranges.
City Manager Stephen Arbo cautioned that the city has already paid Springsted $225,000 for the study, and the company has already worked beyond the original scope of the project. Additional work would likely require additional cost, he said.
“I think we have spent enough money on this,” Councilwoman Trish Carlyle said. “Let’s fix it. Let’s move on.”
Ultimately, the council asked Arbo to come back at a Jan. 11 council work session with estimates for how much it would cost over five and 10 years to raise employee pay ranges to the mid-point of the market, the top of the market and a point in between. They also asked Arbo to investigate the discrepancies raised by the police union and provide examples of how other cities determine how to remain competitive with employee pay.
David Twiddy: firstname.lastname@example.org