Officials Discuss Step, Grade System For Town Staff

BERLIN – Officials discussed plans for a step and grade system for municipal employees this week.

In a work session Monday the Berlin Town Council reviewed plans for implementation of a step and grade system. The town has been moving toward a system since the spring.

“I think it would be a benefit to our employees knowing consistently what’s going to happen year after year,” Councilman Dean Burrell said.

In late 2022, the town hired a consultant to conduct a pay study. The results of that study, released in the spring of 2023, showed that town employees were underpaid. While elected officials agreed they’d like to bring municipal employees to 50% of the market rate, with budget constraints in mind they agreed to increase salaries to 35% of the market rate. At the same time, officials agreed they wanted to implement a step and grade system, which would classify the town’s positions and the salaries associated with them.

“When we’re looking at a step and grade system it’s two-fold,” Tyndall said. “It’s one to make sure that our employees, the folks that we have currently as well as those that are looking to join the team, have a pathway for understanding where their financials could go with longevity with the town of Berlin….Additionally, it’s designed to help the Town of Berlin from a fiscal planning standpoint, to be able to understand our costs as it relates to salaries before we enter into a budget cycle.”

Kelsey Jensen, the town’s human resources director, said she was seeking guidance from the council as far as whether the town would be bringing employees to what was considered 50% of market level as well as guidance on the salary scale. She said bringing town staff to 50% of market level would cost about $370,000. Tyndall added that bringing employees to the predetermined level wouldn’t factor in longevity.

Councilman Jack Orris said he felt the priority was to set up the step and grade system. Councilman Steve Green said he didn’t support moving to the 50% of market level this year. He noted that many employees got significant increases last year when the jump to 35% was made. He said this year, he’d rather focus on the step and grade system.

“Last year a major investment was made,” he said.

Councilman Jay Knerr offered similar comments.

“Implementing this (step and grade) program is a win for the employees,” he said.

Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols agreed and said the town needed to make sure it honored what was in the salary scale, as that hadn’t happened the last time the town had a salary scale.

While the town’s consultant recommended a scale of 16 grades and 21 steps, Jensen presented an alternative with more grades this week. The council indicated support for her version of the scale, which consists of 25 grades with 21 steps. She said the one she proposed had 5% between grades and 2.5% between steps. Town Administrator Mary Bohlen said staff could come back to the council once positions were tied to the scale.

“Kelsey and I will have a lot of homework to do before that comes back to you,” she said.

Green said he wasn’t sure the council needed to review where positions landed on the scale.

“I disagree with micromanaging administration,” he said.

Tyndall said elected officials were involved because it was a new program that was being implemented. Burrell said he felt it was the council’s duty to set guidelines and oversee the process.

“It impacts our town dollars,” he said.

With this week’s input, Jensen is expected to spend the coming weeks setting up the salary schedule and placing positions at the appropriate grades on the scale.

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.