Town Salaries Rival Big City Pay

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Taxpayers will foot the bill for town employee pay raises comparable to those found in larger, wealthier communities, when the new budget takes effect July 1.

The salary increases are part of a two-phase budget process that brings wages up to "market" level.

Back in December, Payson employees collected $500 more per month during the first increase. Early next month, they will receive the balance of those market salary gains.

"Last year we only implemented part of it," Town Manager Fred Carpenter said. "The council came back this year and implemented the rest of it."

Carpenter, who is a contract employee, recently received a 30 percent increase, bringing his annual salary to $118,932. Police Chief Gordon Gartner will receive $107,832, a 20-percent upgrade; Public Works Director Buzz Walker takes in $106,524, 15 percent more; and Town Attorney Sam Streichman, at $101,964 a year, earns a 12.5-percent wage boost.

In addition to their market increases, town employees will all receive a 2.3 percent cost-of-living increase.

Some council members are calling the raises excessive. They believe the 10 Arizona communities used in the town's study to determine the market salary increases were selected to weight the salary adjustments.

Apache Junction, Avondale, Cottonwood, Flagstaff, Gilbert, Goodyear, Prescott, Sierra Vista, Surprise and Wickenburg were the communities used as the study's baseline.

"It was still somewhat controversial and took about an hour's worth of discussion," Carpenter said. "There were a couple of (councilors) who thought the comparison communities were wrong and some of the ranges were a little bit high."

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Town Manager Fred Carpenter

Tracy Snyder, the former human resources manager who conducted the market study last year, said the comparisons were based on communities chosen by population and cost of living.

"Payson's cost of living is 8.5 percent higher than the national average," Snyder told the council. "The average of the selected cities is 8.8 percent higher than the national average."

Opponents argue that the 10 cities are more urban than Payson and tend to skew the study's figures upward.

"I don't think the market data is accurate," Councilor Tim Fruth said. "To compare rural to urban is just not really an apples to apples type of comparison."

The population inequities of the study seem to skew the number even further.

Of the 10 municipalities in the study, only two have smaller populations than Payson's 13,620 residents -- Wickenburg (5,082) and Cottonwood (9,179).

The other eight cities in the study have much greater tax bases to support higher wages. Gilbert, for example, has a population of 109,697; Flagstaff, 52,894; Sierra Vista, 37,725; and Avondale, 35,883.

Mayor Barbara Brewer announced a unanimous council vote for the market pay increases at the June 16 special budget meeting.

Councilors Robert Henley and Fruth, however, said they abstained and have asked Town Clerk Silvia Smith to correct the minutes.

"Let's put it this way, the minutes don't properly reflect (the vote)," Henley said. "There were three of us that were speaking in various ways about the market that indicated we weren't in favor of it -- Tim (Fruth), myself and George (Barriger)."

At the regular council meeting last night, Henley read a letter signed by the three councilors expressing their "concern with the selection of the 10 communities used to develop the market survey" and asking for another budget meeting to discuss the subject. A meeting was subsequently scheduled for Tuesday, June 28, at 5 p.m.

While Henley declined to characterize the market study and other information provided to the council by town staff as misleading, he did call it "overpowering."

"Even though I wasn't comfortable with the 10 cities we were comparing ourselves to, when you've got a streets worker - a streets worker is a streets worker is a streets worker," Henley said. "The description is pretty clear.

"When you get up into management and department heads, the functions and the duties and the responsibilities are much different in a larger community than in a smaller community, or a rural community versus a metro community. And I've always expressed concern about that aspect of it. Are we doing a fair comparison?"

Effective July 1, the salaries for other selected town positions:

Starting police officer $46,296

Police Sergeant $68,688

Firefighter $50,424

Fire Marshal $62,412

Hydrogeologist $82,176

Airport Manager $69,372

Parks Supervisor $61,476

Community comparison

The Roundup obtained salaries for town employees statewide from the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.

The following figures indicate the salaries several comparably sized rural communities pay for key positions compared to Payson. These numbers also include the average of the pay scales in towns ranging from 10,000 to 49,999 population:

Town Manager: Payson $118,932; Sedona 104,004; Winslow 100,224; Camp Verde 60,840; Average 115,752

PoliceChief: Payson $107,832; Sedona 89,232; Winslow 68,268; Camp Verde 62,532; Average 94,260

Public Works Director: Payson $106,524; Sedona 82,932; Winslow N/A; Camp Verde N/A; Average 86,124

Town Attorney: Payson $101,964; Sedona 99,960; Winslow 82,536; Camp Verde 79,116; Average 99,780

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