FORT WAYNE – They write your speeding tickets, fill your potholes, engineer your sewers and deliver you clean drinking water – and they all want to get paid for it.
But how much to pay them – finding the balance between fiscal responsibility and an effective, competent workforce – is always a question, city and county leaders say.
Allen County Council President Darren Vogt points out that in 2006 or 2007, the county’s employee turnover rate was just over 12 percent. So county officials hired an outside firm specializing in compensation to examine not just the wages they were paying, but job descriptions and their entire salary grid. Then, based on those recommendations, they supplied $1.5 million to adjust salaries in addition to cost-of-living increases.
Now our turnover is about 8 percent, Vogt said. We’ve addressed those issues.
High turnover was costing the county an estimated $1 million a year, officials estimated – not to mention the cost that came from lower productivity from employees who were unhappy but stayed in their jobs.
It’s extremely expensive to train and hire new employees, Vogt said. You also want good employees and compensation is part of that.
Fort Wayne officials went through a similar process in 2007, making sure that similar responsibilities paid similar wages regardless of department.
City officials said they cannot afford to have employees who are not effective, especially now that tight budgets are requiring more work to be done by fewer workers.
About 80 percent of the budget is personnel, city Controller Pat Roller said. So obviously this is something we monitor very carefully.
One way the city has been able to reduce its workforce is through technology – but that requires highly trained workers.
We now have to demand higher skill set levels, Roller said. The city has gotten more complicated to run.
Traditionally, the public sector has always offered lower wages than the private sector, but made up for it with more job security and better benefits. With the cost of benefits rising sharply and workforces being cut, governments have had to bring wages closer to the private sector to be able to compete for high-quality employees, Roller said.
Last year our employees gave up a lot of benefits, she said.
Taxpayers might not like giving workers raises, officials said, but they also want workers who are good at their jobs.
Of course, there is a balance that must be maintained – one enforced by the voters.
It’s all about the delivery of service, Roller said. Then the question is, What level of service can we afford?’ Because at some point, the taxpayer says, This is good enough.’