Question of the Week, Week 15: City employee compensation
Each week through the General Election, The Breeze will ask the candidates for Cape Coral City Council an issue-related question. In the interest of fairness, each candidate is limited to the same amount of space, about 100 words, for their response.
This week’s question is: The largest part of any operations budget is staff salaries and related benefits, which also carry legacy costs such as pension and health care obligations. Where do you see the city in terms of employee compensation? What, if any, changes do you believe should be made to the city’s collective bargaining efforts and/or the former city manager’s benchmark goal of paying city workers at the 75th percentile, or upper range, of what comparable cities pay?
The city is using a good benchmark if the comparison is made against other Florida cities. Being competitive attracts the best employees. There may come a time the city may have to look at a defined contribution plan (compares to a 401k with company match) for new employees instead of the traditional defined benefit plan (pension). However, with the growth the city is expecting I would not make any current changes at this time as we need to be competitive in hiring against other SWFL cities because benefits matter. I also think we should grow our city employees by offering a promotion ladder for continued growth throughout their career instead of the overuse of consultants or doing employment searches for directors. Employees deserve to grow throughout their careers.
Salaries should be competitive. What is lacking in our city is accountability in behavior and productivity. There should be an expected amount of performance. Having the education and degrees for the position held and also for eligibility for new positions. Raises should be based on cost of living and performance. Pension and health care obligation is very important to being a successful City. I don’t agree on comparing us to other cities. Every city offers a different lifestyle that has a positive or negative level of value and cost of living. A different tax base and financial demographic.
Being competitive in attracting top employees while maintaining them is key.
Legacy cost cannot be the burden of the residents alone.
Legacy cost continues to evolve. It was once standard that a majority of workers received a pension; 401K plans began to replace pensions. The employee is required to make contributions to maximize their benefits. The organization makes some type of % match. 401K’s reduces the burden on the taxpayer while encouraging the employee to save using pretax dollars. Promise made must be kept!
However new hires can be offered different benefits reducing the long-term cost to the residents.
I believe getting to the 75th percentile should be the goal. That affords us the ability to retain and attract quality employees throughout all departments. Union employees — police, fire and general — agreed to and have been contributing their pension plans in a defined manner for years. The city has the biggest contribution to these plans. Plus there is the added benefit of the DROP program for vested employees. Pension liabilities are a concern but seem to be trending downward. I believe health benefits — as they currently stand — are fair as well with city paying employee benefits but the employee paying for added family members like spouse and children. Salaries, as well as pension and health benefits, will continue to be collective bargaining negotiating points moving forward, but the city is trending in the right direction on most matters.
Louis C. Navarra
I would like to see money go to benefits. Rationale: You do not pay taxes on benefits. Benefit costs keeps rising, especially for families. It’s a win. If you get a $50 raise and your insurance cost goes up to $60 more net effect -$10 in the hole financially. I can see fair bargaining in the Florida Sunshine law. I do agree with the former City Manager of the 75 percentile. They should be at 100%. If they perform their jobs well. We do not want to see one man working while three men are watching a project. (Very old joke about Con Ed. in New York City).
I believe in fair pay for qualified employees. I look forward to learning more about our personnel policies, the current union requirements and also seeing what our new city manager brings to the table. Employee morale is just as important as accountability.
Jessica Cosden, incumbent
In nearly any organization, the largest expenditure is employee pay and benefits. The City has come a long way in addressing future pension and health care obligations, including a recent reform that saved a net $48 million. Cape Coral deserves the most competent, dedicated employees in every position from customer service representative to engineer. But determining competitive pay should be a science, not an art. To answer both of these concerns, the 75th percentile (considering population and cost of living in comparable cities) is a reasonable target. I support this method because it is backed by sound data.
Dr. Derrick Donnell
During my last year in office we adopted a strategy to begin the pursuit of having our employees total employment compensation package reach the 75th percentile with respect to comparable cities. As long as it does not negatively impact the city budget either on a short-term or long-term basis, the city should continue its pursuit. In terms of collective bargaining, the city should continue to utilize the interest-based bargaining model. Cape Coral continues to grow in population. It is important that our total employee compensation package be competitive so that we can recruit and retain the best talent in order to provide excellent services to our residents.