Town Salary Increases Approved

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Sixty town employees will receive their market salary increases on July 1.

A special meeting Tuesday evening ended as soon as it began when a motion by Councilor Robert Henley to reconsider the increases was defeated by a 4-3 margin.

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Judy Buettner, Vice mayor

Henley said the decision to bring town staff to "market" in two stages will cost the town $1.4 million each year.

"The first half of the market that was implemented the 17th of December was about a $1 million hit. Now it's a $402,000 hit for 60 positions, so this is a big, significant event," Henley said.

But Vice Mayor Judy Buettner defended the raises as long overdue.

"It's a catch-up for many years of them hanging tough with us through the times we didn't have the money," the vice mayor said. "There were times they didn't get market, they didn't get cost of living, they didn't get merit, they didn't get anything."

Much of the controversy was focused on the study used to determine the amount of the increase. Tracy Snyder, the former human resources manager who conducted the market study last year, used 10 Arizona communities based on "their population and higher cost of living."

But while the costs of living are comparable to Payson, their populations are not. The fact that most of them are affluent urban communities also bothered the three councilors who wanted to reopen the subject.

The communities included in the study are Apache Junction, Avondale, Cottonwood, Flagstaff, Gilbert, Goodyear, Prescott, Sierra Vista, Surprise and Wickenburg.

Buettner defended the study.

"You can find fault with any study," she said. "There's really no place like Payson to be absolutely compared to, so I accept the market study. Besides we need to be competitive with these (communities)."

But Henley said revisiting the issue would have made everybody feel better about the council's decision.

"If they were firm in their position, what's the problem with discussing the issues?" he said. "I think that would have helped the community understand where they're coming from as well as where we're coming from, and right now we don't have that."

Besides, Henley said, he wanted to introduce new information that might have impacted the council's earlier decision -- information he says backs his contention that big city department heads have more responsibilities than their counterparts in Payson.

"One of the towns they're comparing us to is Gilbert, and their population is projected to be 172,000 this year," he said. "The police chief in Gilbert has 274 people reporting to him, and he has a budget of $26 million.

"I don't like singling out a particular position, but that is the type of thing we're looking at. That's just one of the things I would have liked to talk about but we didn't get that chance tonight."

But Buettner said the council did the right thing.

"You can't keep passing over hard decisions," she said. "This council, and I mean all seven of us, voted for this last year and we voted for it again a week or so ago, and I'm proud of us for doing that."

Councilor Tim Fruth, who along with Councilor George Barriger, backed Henley, emphasized that the three were not against the staff getting raises.

"There's a lot of people who deserve raises, and I would suggest there's a lot of people at the lower end of the pay scale who deserve more than what they're getting," he said. "It's OK if the data bears out the information, but I'm concerned that we do these analyses in-house when they need to be done by a person who is not impacted by the data."

Buettner conceded that future market studies should be conducted by an independent contractor, but said it is time for the council to move on.

"We have been a very good council," she said. "We have respected each other's differences, we have been able to leave our differences at the table, and I'm hoping we can continue."

Fruth is OK with that, but said the voters will ultimately decide the wisdom of the raises.

"That's the way it goes, and I can smile and move forward," he said.

Joining Buettner in favor of the market increases were Mayor Barbara Brewer and councilors Dick Reese and John Wilson.

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