The justification for this is the salaries of Sierra Madre employees have traditionally been lower than those of some of the surrounding communities, and giving employees very expensive health care benefits somehow makes it all better. This being done in the name of retaining people who would otherwise be hard to replace. The fear being that Sierra Madre has been functioning as a training academy, and that once employees are up to speed off they go to cities willing to pay them higher salaries.
I am not certain that this has been the case, though certainly a few have left over the years. But at least on an anecdotal level it would appear that this city has had a fairly stable employee base.
Below is a summary of what this item hopes to achieve. It is important to remember that many of the salary considerations here were done at the request of the previous City Council.
So here are what I see as being the good parts of it. City Hall hours are going back to something that is actually useful to the working men and women of this community. Rather than 11AM, the doors to the Puzzle Palace will now fly open to the taxpayers and those wishing to do business here at 7:30 AM, and will remain open until 5:30pm, Monday though Thursday. Planning and Public Works counters will be open 7:30am to 2:30pm. This is being accomplished without increasing current staff hours, so at least in that regard there are no additional costs to the taxpayers.
Another happy aspect of this proposal is health care costs are being pulled back from among the highest cost levels found anywhere to being merely posh. I am not sure too many living in this city have $18,000 a year health care plans, but perhaps some do. However, when compared to the $29,601 average top ten employee health plans we have seen up until now in Sierra Madre, it is a bit of an improvement. And honestly, I don't think that anyone downtown is going to miss having their teeth cleaned because of this change.
It would appear that Sierra Madre's infamous "highest in the state" designations for both utility taxes and health care plans are both about to disappear. Quite a change if you think about it, and one that I never thought we'd see here. It could be that City Hall is finally emerging from some of the strange and medieval financial practices of its troubled past to join a world where things are done a little more sanely.
Where I think some fiscally concerned people are going to have a problem is with the increased costs for employee salaries. The impression here being that while things are taken away on the one hand, they're more than restored on the other.
Here is the point of view from one keen observer of Sierra Madre's financial affairs:
That is an important point. The City's justification for these salary increases is that they need to bring employee salaries here to within 15% of our larger and financially more prominent neighbors. And although that 15% "below market value" figure will also function as a cap, it is still being done in the name of (using that by now famous phrase), "Attracting, Developing, and Retaining Quality Staff.”
Even though most of this city's employees do seem to stick around anyway. Perhaps it is the relatively low impact ambiance of the place that does it?
But are those by now well-worn City Hall claims valid? Are they based on a sound methodology? Perhaps not. Do read on.
The other point our observer makes pertains to the justification used by the City for raising employee salaries to within 15% of our larger and more fiscally impactful neighbors. What is questioned here is the validity of comparing management responsibilities in relatively small Sierra Madre, to those in far larger places with far more complex jobs and responsibilities. Like Pasadena.
Another thing that stood out was the low number of full time employees, as compared to the rest of the cities being compared to, which the study erroneously refers to as the “market.” A market for a job is one in which the positions are similar in more than just geography. Ie the market for a mid-level manager tasked with overseeing X employees is one in which we are comparing similar jobs that require similar responsibilities. No private sector comparison would consider a manager tasked with overseeing 88 employees as in the same market as a manger tasked with overseeing 2,007 employees, but this study does just that by treating the cities of Pasadena and Sierra Madre as if they are equivalent members of the same “market.”
The average city in this “market” has an approximately 500% greater population (58,889) and 500% more full time govt employees (388) than Sierra Madre (pop. 11,021 FTE 88)
So the question that one might want to ask, is it really a fair comparison to compare the salaries for employees in a managerial role, to those in a similar role with 5x the amount of employees under their charge? Said differently, would a managerial position tasked with overseeing 100 people be equivalent to one that is tasked with overseeing 500 people?
Put another way, a management position in Sierra Madre is just a far smaller job than what you'll find in Pasadena. So is it really fair to compare any two jobs here as if they are equal? Just because the two cities happen to be next to each other? And on top of that then tying salaries to it?
This is, in my sometimes humble opinion, one of the bigger topics to appear on the City Council's agenda in a while. Right up there with the building moratorium. You need to check it out.
Of course, this discussion has been stuck at the very end of a long meeting schedule, so who knows if they will actually get to it.