Pay Study To Lead Summer Talks At City Hall

OCEAN CITY — This week,
as the Mayor and Council enjoyed a respite from their scheduled weekly
meetings, City Manager Dennis Dare was putting the finishing touches on a
salary study that is expected to be one of the main political talking points in
what could be a rather quiet summer at City Hall.

Historically, after the
Mayor and Council passes the annual budget, the focus shifts from lengthy
debates about things that could affect the way the town operates, to just
merely operating the town and tending to the millions of summer visitors.

“Usually, it is a little
bit slower in the summer time, because we’ve been working so hard all year to
get the budget and the town ready for the summer and once the summer gets here
everyone is too busy working hard to cater to Ocean City’s guests to sit down
at City Hall and get into huge political discussions,” said Mayor Rick Meehan.
“But, I think the salary study that Dennis is working on will probably be one
of the big things we’ll be working on and talking about.”

Dare was tasked with
putting together a comprehensive study of employee salary structures,
specifically for new hires, by Councilman Jim Hall several months ago, and the
fact that Dare hadn’t completed the study by last week’s first reading of the
fiscal year 2011 budget made Hall vote against the budget’s passage.

“I voted against it
because I have been asking for over a year to address the issue of a new pay
and benefits structure for new employees and I still haven’t gotten it”, said
Hall last week. “I’m very disappointed and I just can’t move forward and not
address that.”

Hall went on to say that
he believed that if the town didn’t restructure its pay and benefits package
for new hires in the future, that it would have extremely adverse consequences
for the town’s proverbial bottom line.

“If we don’t address
this, it’s going to break the city in the long run, and we can’t just keep
moving ahead with this old pay structure. I just won’t have it,” said Hall.

Dare contested that
compiling the information that Hall requested was time consuming and deemed to
be not as important as preparing and presenting the budget, but he claims that
he is awaiting some feedback from the private sector about comparable
statistics to what they pay their employees. Dare also says that it is
difficult to find feasible comparisons locally.

“It’s not like we are
competing with other industries here on the island,” said Dare. “We are a
resort destination that is comprised of a lot of service-oriented positions
that are historically on the lower end of the pay scale. We’ve compiled a
comparison list from other municipalities and that’s been easy because all of
that information is public record, but sometimes, the private sector is less
willing to give out their information.”

Dare expects to present
the study in a few weeks and hopes to provide benchmarks for full-time
positions in the town’s hierarchy and compare what the town pays those
positions to what other areas are paying their people in those same positions.

“We have to stay
competitive with what other places are paying their full-time people if we want
to recruit and retain them,” said Dare. “I think that people look at the
salaries of the top 100 people and think that everyone on the town’s payroll is
making six figures because that just isn’t true. What was listed was
predominantly a list of senior members of the town’s workforce that have been
here for 25-30 years, so that list is more of a snapshot of salary structure,
and not the big picture.”

Meehan, on the other
hand, says that another part of the so-called big picture is perhaps

“It’s human nature to
look at what someone is making and point out that they think someone is getting
a better deal than they are,” said Meehan. “If you look at not only what people
are spending on college educations these days, and then what the starting
salaries are when they get out of those schools, it is very much different than
someone who recently retired after working for 30 or 40 years. We are going to
look at it closely and more than likely, have a lengthy discussion about where
we are and where we should be.”

Dare conceded that thus
far, he’s finding the salary structure in Ocean City to be “right about there”
with other pay scales in governments, and he noted that the city has done
studies like this in the past.

“We’ve done exercises
like this on an annual basis for quite some time,” said Dare. “This time
around, we are trying to be even more thorough and extensive with our report
because of the interest from the council, but we have always strived to make
sure that what we are paying our people is not below or above what the market
is dictating. We have to stay competitive.”

Last summer, after the
council set the tax rate at 39.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, which is
the same tax rate officials are on the brink of passing this year, the hot
button topic of discussion for the Mayor and City Council in 2009 was what to
do with the proliferation of Salvia Divornium in some of the resort’s Boardwalk

The council, in the name
of public safety, voted through emergency ordinance to ban the substance and
the sale of the substance from the city limits.

Recently, the General
Assembly in Annapolis followed suit and banned the substance as well at the
state level.

Although Meehan doesn’t
expect another issue like Salvia to come up this year, he says that he expects
there to be much discussion throughout the summer season at City Hall.

“We’ve got lots of
things to talk about and we are going to closely monitor how the town runs this
summer since we’ve made so many departmental changes and we are working with a
much more diminished staff,” said Meehan. “We need to see if the right-sizing
of our staff and government is working out just right when the summer reaches
full tilt.”