Pulaski County employee salaries, not scrutinized against the market for two decades, fall short of competitive pay rates, according to a comprehensive study.
The Johanson Group, a Fayetteville-based firm, was paid $68,800 to conduct the salary study on the county's full-time positions. It's the first of its kind since 1998, when Coulter Consulting Group Inc. reached a similar conclusion: Pulaski County benefits are competitive, but the pay isn't.
The Coulter firm originally suggested $3 million to increase employees' pay, which roiled the Quorum Court for weeks, according to news articles at the time. Ultimately, smaller raises than suggested were given to select personnel.
The 2017 study came from a need to attract and retain a competent workforce as well as to evaluate how the county stacks up against government groups, nonprofits and the private sector, officials said.
In April, the Quorum Court budget committee authorized the bidding process for the study. In June, the Johanson Group was chosen, and in mid-October, the company's president presented the results.
Over four months, 314 county job descriptions were analyzed, Blair Johanson told the Quorum Court. Each description earned points based on 15 categories -- such as experience, mental demands, physical demands and contact with the public.
The higher the number of points, the greater the job value, which typically meant that employees were more educated and were granted more responsibilities.
Those in the upper tier, between 1,401 and 2,300 points, were dubbed "unclassified" jobs. Those people are typically management and high-level professionals, Johanson said.
"Classified" posts fell anywhere between 201 to 1,400 points. Of the county's 1,087 employees, the vast majority are classified.
Just 64 are unclassified, Comptroller Michael Hutchens said.
County salaries were compared to a pool of Arkansas groups including Benton and Washington counties, the city of Little Rock, the state, nonprofits and private companies.
The study found that the average unclassified, or upper-tier, employee in Pulaski County was paid 18 percent below the market average. Classified employees in the county make about 10.6 percentbelow the average, the study found.
In crafting a new pay scale, the firm generated "salary midpoints."
Each midpoint is basically the average going rate in a competitive market for that job description, said Bruce Johanson, a partner at the firm and Blair Johanson's brother.
The Johanson Group also included a pay range for each midpoint based on the county's current parameters, with a minimum salary at 76 percent of the midpoint and a maximum salary at 131 percent of the midpoint.
For example, the salary midpoint for a detention officer at the jail would be about $43,856. But that salary could swing between $33,330 and $57,451 while still keeping the overall budget in check.
As a rule of thumb, someone new would be hired on the lower end of his pay range, unless he has additional experience, Bruce Johanson said. The upper tier is generally for people who have progressed through the ranks or can offer extra skills, he said.
The Johanson Group recommended the county shift its entire pay structure to make it more competitive, then adjust actual county salaries over time.
To match the market, average pay for classified salaries should be bumped up by 10 percent while average pay for unclassified salaries should improve by 18 percent, Blair Johanson said.
"That doesn't mean we're moving employees' pay 18 percent. We're moving the internal average line by 18 percent to create a midpoint," which the pay structure is based on, Blair Johanson said.
"With time, you make pay adjustments to employees' pay to get closer to the market," he said.
Actual pay increases for employees will be gradual. The county can't afford to move every position to the market average, Hutchens said at a Quorum Court budget committee meeting Tuesday night.
To do all that, "you're talking millions and millions," he said. Rather, the new pay structure will be a target for county officials to have in their sights.
An immediate proposal is to raise the salaries of 57 county employees who don't already meet the adjusted minimum rate, Hutchens said.
It'll be a sizable bump for people whose pay is the most out of whack, he said.
"You've got some deputy directors out here who are going to see some five-digit raises," he told the Quorum Court.
For 960 county employees whose current pay is below their midpoint, the Johanson Group suggested a 2 percent raise for 2018.
For 67 county employees paid above their midpoint but less than their maximum, a 1 percent raise was suggested.
Three employees who are already paid above their maximum won't see a raise but will get a one-time payment worth 1 percent of their salary, Hutchens said.
Those maneuvers will cost the county around $1.33 million.
Much of that money, $807,000, will come from the General Fund, Hutchens said.
Supporting 4 percent raises across the board, which the county has done for the past few years, would run about $1.85 million, he told the Quorum Court.
"Two percent isn't a huge raise, I get that," Hutchens said. "It's better than zero. And it's also better than giving more and coming back in April and saying, 'We don't have that money. Who do you want to lay off?'"
When fielding questions from justices of the peace, Hutchens answered one that he said must be on everyone's mind.
"Is everybody going to get the same thing? No," he said. "But in the real world -- we all know this -- that's not how that works."
Justice of the Peace Phil Stowers and Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley, who sat in on an Oct. 10 budget committee meeting, both rallied for the pay structure revamp.
"This is helping us to really lift some people up that are on the bottom rung," Stowers said Tuesday.
"With my exposure to the process, this is good stuff," said Jegley, who joined the department he heads in 1991. He reflected on the 1998 study, saying it "was like Greek and Swahili, all jumbled up into one."
And it neither attracted nor helped retain quality employees to serve the people of Pulaski County, he said.
"The hard decisions are going to be, where's the cash flow? How are we going to implement it?" Jegley added.
The budget committee voted 8-0 to adopt the study's pay scheme. It was sent to the full Quorum Court for a vote when the body approves the 2018 budget, which typically happens in late November.
A Section on 10/23/2017
Print Headline: Pay study finds Pulaski County lagging behind