Berlin Council Reviews Pay Study, Proposed Adjustments

BERLIN – Overall, municipal employees in Berlin are paid 8.5% below market, according to a pay study.

Though it’s been talked about for weeks, the contents of a pay study the Town of Berlin had conducted by PaypointHR are now available to the public on the town’s website. Elected officials discussed the study and their plan to increase the pay for positions that were below market at a work session on Monday.

“I think folks are at least pleased to see some action,” Mayor Zack Tyndall said. “It might not be the full action we all want to do but at least we’re making an effort and we’re not saying it’s going to sit on a shelf somewhere.”

The town spent slightly more than $30,000 to have PaypointHR conduct a compensation study for the town. The study looked at demographics, cost of living, pay rates in similar jurisdictions and even involved PaypointHR staff meeting with town employees to get their input.

While Berlin’s elected officials had initially planned to increase salaries that were identified as low to 50% of the market rate, they adjusted that figure to 35% due to budget constraints.

The proposed budget also includes a cost-of-living increase of 2% for all employees. Going forward, the town plans to establish a step and grade system for all positions.

“Tonight’s really to whittle down any questions we may have before we move forward with budget adoption on June 12,” Tyndall said.

Councilman Jay Knerr asked if a study like this had ever been done before.

Town Administrator Mary Bohlen said nothing to this level had ever been completed.

“We’ve never undertaken this formal of a process,” she said. “I believe we utilized resources available from Salisbury University or perhaps even UMES but I don’t think they did this level of data gathering.”

Councilman Steve Green asked if employees had seen the study and what their reaction had been.

Kelsey Jensen, the town’s human resources director, said the study had been shared with employees. She said the majority seemed pleased the town was doing something.

Some, however, said that their pay wasn’t being adjusted because they’d worked for the town so long they weren’t below market.

“I explained that we’re working on the step and grade system, it would be in place next year and hopefully approved, then we could place them more appropriately on the scale so next year they’d see more of that impact,” Jensen said, adding that this was a starting point for the town. “I think people were understanding of that, as disappointed as some may be. I think they understood that we’re correcting a problem that’s been here and we’re trying to start somewhere.”

She noted that an employee who’d left the town recently had cited pay as the main reason for their decision during an exit interview.

Knerr asked if making the proposed adjustments would put the town in a better position to hire and retain employees.

“I hope so,” Jensen responded. “I think that it makes us a lot more clear as well in what we’re looking for.”

She said previously, she’d interviewed candidates for a position and offered them the job only to find out the pay the town was offering was nowhere near what they were expecting. Following the pay study, the town will be able to have salary ranges in places to list when advertising to fill vacancies.

“Without a range we’re not being very transparent in our hiring process,” she said.

Councilman Dean Burrell said he was glad the town had done the pay study even if officials couldn’t immediately address every issue identified.

“I wish we could do more but we can only do what we can do,” he said. “We are acting on the information presented to us in this study. It will allow us to be able to document treating all employees across the board regardless of which department they work in.”

He added that he wanted to see an assessment of the town’s positions so that when department heads requested additional staff, elected officials would know if more employees were warranted or not.

“Where I sit, I’m not able to assess the validity of those requests,” he said. “I would like to have somebody from the outside, if possible, come in and do an assessment of our organizational structure and how human resources are allocated in that structure and then I would be able to say to a department head or anyone on the street, we don’t need to hire an administrative assistant now because of this and so. It just makes things more transparent and more observable.”

Jensen said along with the positive comments she’d heard there had also been some concern among employees regarding the fact that the proposed budget didn’t include the one-time payment staff typically received around the holidays.

“In any process there’s going to be some tough moments,” Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols said. “This might be one of those.”

Councilman Jack Orris agreed and said the town didn’t have unlimited resources.

“I hope staff realize that we are trying,” he said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.