Council Defends Move To Outsource Pay, Benefits Study

OCEAN CITY – A debate of a recently approved compensation and benefits study was reignited this week as citizens came before the Mayor and City Council questioning the decision.

A couple of weeks ago, the Mayor and City Council approved outsourcing a study of Ocean City’s current pay and benefits, despite some thoughts expressed to have the work conducted by city staff to save money.

At that time, Ocean City Human Resource Director Wayne Evans requested the Mayor and City Council’s approval to solicit proposals for a Compensation and Benefits Study for city employees.

Evans explained the study is listed as a 2013 action item in Ocean City’s Strategic Plan. The purpose of a compensation and benefits study is to analyze, validate, and/or improve current compensation administration and classification practices but also to determine the town’s competitive standing as it related to pay and benefits comparative market through the collection and analysis of compensation and benefits survey data.

The town had estimated and budgeted $45,000 to $50,000 to fund the study in the Fiscal Year 2014 Budget. The successful vendor will be expected to provide a completed study on or before Aug. 30.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas asked why the study could not be completed in-house by city staff to save the already allocated funding, such as when Evans conducted a Compensation and Benefits Survey in 2011.

Evans responded at that time he conducted a market study only to compare Ocean City to other comparable jurisdictions based on some benchmark positions. The survey did not expand into position classifications and employee responsibilities.

City Manager David Recor reminded the council funding for the study has already been allocated in the current fiscal year’s budget and is an initiative that will carry on into the next fiscal year fully funded.

The council voted 6-1, with Councilman Brent Ashley in opposition to approve the solicitation for proposals, to conduct a Compensation and Benefits Study. The Request For Proposal (RFP) was sent out this week.

This week’s discussion opened with Ocean City resident Herb Pawlukewicz accusing the council of swiftly making the decision to which Council Secretary Mary Knight responded not only did the council discuss the study over several weeks of budget discussions a year ago, but the study is also included in Ocean City’s strategic plan as a top priority, which the Mayor and City Council, city staff, and community members discussed at length for several months.

Pawlukewicz furthered it is his opinion Ocean City’s staff is already paid excessively and is not in need of a raise if the study were to conclude such a notion.

“It was 2009 when any employee in Ocean City was given a COLA [Cost Of Living Adjustment], and everybody did get a step [increase] this year, which was the first in four years also,” Councilman Joe Mitrecic said.

Recor clarified only those employees who were eligible received a step increase this year.

“We do have employees who have reached the maximum of their pay grade and once you do you are not eligible for any other pay adjustment,” Recor said.

According to Mitrecic, Ocean City has 520 full-time employees and in 2013 64 were not eligible for a raise and 115 are not eligible for a raise in 2014.

“Are we unique enough that we could not use a study that someone else has done on salaries in this area? Why do we have to do a unique study?,” Ocean City resident Mac Balcom asked.

Knight reiterated the compensation and benefits study is much more encompassing than only analyzing Ocean City’s pay steps.

“People look at this like we are going to start paying people more money … it is just a fair and equitable study to do every five to six years to keep our workforce the best it can be,” she said. “We look at other areas that are much like ours that have 500-plus full-time employees, 600-plus part-time or summer time employees. It is an all-encompassing study, and just something we cannot gather ourselves. We don’t have the staff to do it.”

Councilman Dennis Dare assured the compensation and benefits study will not be “a study to sit on the shelf to gather dust” as was asserted.

“The only thing a municipality is, is a service. We provide services for our town, and most of those services are provided by people. So, if we have an $80 million general fund, $50 million plus or minus is in salaries and benefits every year. To pause and do a comprehensive study to make sure everybody’s jobs description is proper, prevent equal opportunity complaints, make sure people are being compensated for the work they do, look at internal equity, look at external equity in the salaries that are made … and rules are all changing with new minimum wages and the Affordable Care Act, so we would be irresponsible if we didn’t take a good close look at this,” Dare said. “We have to at least every five years to make it comprehensive, and that is what we are going to be doing.”