SALISBURY — The bidding process to find a group that will conduct a salary study for Salisbury employees was delayed this week so that the terms of the deal could be revised to include benefits as well as salary in the review.
Additionally, which of the half-dozen potential agencies that applied will eventually conduct the study is unknown since there is disagreement between the council and the administration over the bids.
After the delay, Councilwoman Laura Mitchell accused the majority of the council of trying to purposefully stonewall the study, which would determine whether city employees are compensated fairly compared to neighboring areas.
“I see this as a stalling tactic by this council majority,” she said. “They keep coming up with other reasons to put it off and put it off and put it off.”
Mitchell admitted that she is opposed to conducting any study, since it will cost roughly $40,000 and the results will be, in her opinion, obvious.
“I don’t agree with doing the study at all,” said Mitchell. “I think it’s a waste of money … I don’t doubt that [city employees] are underpaid.”
However, Council President Terry Cohen made it clear that she felt Mitchell’s accusations are unjust and counterintuitive to the council making progress on the issue. The reason the vendor process was delayed and sent back to administration, continued Cohen, was simply to make sure that all angles are covered when the study is conducted.
“One of the reasons entities give high benefits is to compensate for perhaps lower salaries,” she noted. “We have a great benefits package.”
As for any disagreement over which vendor should be selected, Cohen laid the full blame for any delay on the administration.
In selecting a vendor, the city administration put together a four-member committee to review the six applicants who offered to conduct the study. Each agency was scored on price, commitment to deadline, any prior projects and the completeness of their response. The committee recommended that Evergreen Solutions be hired to conduct the salary assessment, a recommendation Mayor Jim Ireton seconded.
However, Cohen said the council majority was unsatisfied with the administration’s reasoning.
“The mayor and administration tried to sell the council on a vendor that scored much lower than the highest rated vendor, which conducted the previous study,” she said, referring to the Singer Group. “One has to wonder what’s going on here.”
Cohen added the council still isn’t aware of exactly how the administration settled on Evergreen because the mayor hasn’t given them a window into the process.
“Now, I don’t know why they have scored significantly higher because [Ireton] has refused to give us a scorecard,” she said.
Considering there is only a $1,500 price difference between Singer and Evergreen and Singer was the group that conducted the last survey, Cohen was uncomfortable accepting Evergreen without more information. However, she promised that she personally is willing to discuss a slight raise for employees this year.
Mitchell has firmly taken the stance that Salisbury employees are undervalued and the money for the study could be put toward giving them a 2-percent pay increase, but Cohen is not willing to commit to anything until the study is completed and budgets are beginning to form.
“Our tax assessments are going down, so if we don’t have enough money to give everyone a 2-percent raise, how are we going to do it?” she asked. “Or maybe we’ll say, ‘You know what, folks? We’ll give it to you this year but next year we may have to take it back. Do you understand that?”