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Riverdale might calibrate employee salaries

By Justin Boron

The Riverdale City Council could be moving toward healing its payroll woes if it decides to accept a set of recommendations that could mean raises for some employees and cuts for others.

The council last week held off on acting on the proposed recommendations. But if implemented in their most aggressive form, the salary adjustments generated in an Atlanta Regional Commission report could end up saving the city thousands of dollars and also work toward balancing what Councilman Kenny Ruffin called an “out of whack” pay system.

The weight of past pay raises on the city's budget reached a breaking point earlier this year when the council cut 13 positions from the city staff and gave no cost-of-living raises or longevity bonuses. In exchange, the council was able to balance its budget and avoid a tax hike for the citizens. Officials said at the time that annual pay raises had gotten out of hand in the city.

Part of the problem stemmed from Riverdale's pay grade system, which forces city officials to award raises in 2.5 percent increments, said Kellie Brownlow, the division chief of local government services at the ARC and co-author of the salary study. In other words, she said an employee couldn't get just a 2 percent raise or a 4 percent raise, but had to receive a 2.5 or 5 percent raise.

Brownlow said the study's proposals would bring pay in line with other cities in Riverdale's market and would allow city officials more flexibility in the size of employee raises.

At the same time it may mean bringing down the salary caps for some employees.

City Councilman Rick Scoggins said he's not sure he is ready to do that. He said he may want to implement the recommendations but would like to grandfather in existing employees to protect them from potential pay cuts.

“All that I am for is fairness, honesty, and a level playing field,” he said.

Scoggins also said he worries about the impact the salary changes could have on already depressed morale in the city.

“Ask any employee, and they'll say it's down,” he said. “All the people feel they are not part of the family, and they're looking for other jobs.”

Seeking to determine whether pay scales in Riverdale were competitive, ARC researchers sent questionnaires to all city employees, interviewed department heads and conducted a comparison study. The study's co-authors produced salary recommendations but left room for the council to decide the manner it wants to implement them.

Generally, the report found that the pay range in Riverdale is a stark contrast from what other cities in its market have set.

With a 100 percent pay range, most Riverdale employees have a chance to double their salaries during their tenure. Typical salary range for other cities in the market is 56 percent, or almost half the room for improvement that Riverdale allows, Brownlow said.

No salaries would be immediately changed if the council accepts the recommendations. But a vote would start the process of implementation for the adjustments.

Brownlow said changes could be applied in two fashions.

One option would give raises to employees whose salary falls below the minimum threshold set by the ARC report. It would cost the city about $16,000, Brownlow said.

The alternative would still give pay increases to employees below the determined minimum, but would also lower those employees whose salary cap currently exceeded the maximum of the 56 percent pay range. The result would save the city about $33,000, Brownlow said.