Our Opinion: Pay hike complexities
There is a case to be made for pay raises for Pittsfield government supervisors, but it hasn’t been entirely made yet. It can’t be done in isolation without considering the regular pay hikes for city employees that cause their salaries to in some cases approach those of their supervisors.
The City Council’s Ordinance and Rules Committee tabled the ordinance Monday night after about 21Ž2 hours of discussion so members could further study the consultant’s report on the new salary structure and seek more information. Mayor Daniel Bianchi is proposing to raise the pay levels for about two dozen employees and give a 5 percent raise to the same number of other nonunion workers.
City Councilor Barry Clairmont, speaking from the audience as he is not on the five-member committee, observed that department head salaries are 121Ž2 percent less than in comparably sized cities, a discrepancy that has and will make it difficult for Pittsfield to attract and keep quality supervisors. While department head salaries have been stagnant, the regular pay increases contractually awarded city workers are narrowing the gap between them. Union negotiators are only doing what they are paid to do, which is advocate for their clients, but with private sector salaries largely stagnant if not declining, regular pay raises for unionized government employees can’t be granted routinely.
Awarding pay raises on merit rather than on longevity is a strength of the plan. The long-standing discrepancy between the salaries of city employees and their School Department counterparts who perform similar duties would be narrowed if not erased. Making the pay increases retroactive to July 1, 2013, should be a non-starter, as the City Council is charged with getting supervisor salaries up to par, not correcting past shortcomings. As any raise for the mayor would not take effect until after the 2015 election, Mayor Bianchi would not be in line for a hike if and when his plan is enacted.
Pay raises for city officials during tough economic times are always controversial, but a well-run city that attracts residents and businesses can make those tough times a little easier. It is a tricky balancing act and councilors are smart to take their time finding that balance.