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Optimizing Salary Amounts with Compensation Studies

​Keeping a city's or town's staff roster full can be challenging. Human resources directors can attest that a nearby municipal or county government paying even a small amount more for an equivalent position can make recruitment and retention more difficult.

Cities and towns can often offset this difficulty by periodically investing in studies of employee classes and compensation to help make sure that pay is appropriate and competitive in the labor market.

The Town of Kiawah Island is one of many municipalities that have commissioned a compensation study in recent years. Town Administrator Stephanie Tillerson said the town worked to make certain that the finished report reflected the town's specific circumstances, especially in terms of staff members juggling multiple job responsibilities.

For that purpose, the study included an interview of each person, "because they may wear four or five different hats," she said.

In other instances, the study reached beyond fellow governments for comparison. Kiawah Island employs two biologists, for example, and so the study looked at state agencies and universities — the type of institutions that also employ biologists. Salary ranges produced in the study also took into account potential commuting costs, since employees often need to live elsewhere in the Charleston region.

Tillerson said the process helped to justify to councilmembers that salaries are appropriate, while also giving employees the confidence of knowing they had input in the process. Staff members, she said, "very much are a part of this process, by having them do job questionnaires and having them do interviews and explain what they do."

The City of Mauldin is another municipality to have conducted a class and compensation study in the last couple of years. It drew comparisons both from the governments of cities about the same size as Mauldin as well as some county governments where comparisons could be informative, according to Human Resources Director Mark Putnam.

In July 2018, the study's results went into practice, and the adjustments included a pay increase for all police up to the rank of sergeant and all firefighters up to the rank of lieutenant. Some changes made for existing employees used a formula based on the amount of time they had been in a job as well as their current salary.

"We tried to do it as fairly as we could for the employees that had been here for a while," Putnam said.

He said the changes did not substantially impact "applicant flow," in that the number of applicants did not necessarily increase, but the qualifications did in some cases. Applicants for police positions, for example, began to include some certified officers, capable of beginning patrol work sooner than those hires who first need to go to the SC Criminal Justice Academy.

The SC Municipal Human Resources Association Annual Meeting will feature a session titled "Class and Compensation Studies: How to Convince Your Mayor, Council or City Manager that Your City Needs One." The Annual Meeting takes place November 11 – 15 in Greenville. Also, view the Municipal Association's Municipal Compensation Survey, reporting wages and salaries for cities and towns, which is searchable by criteria.