City Council members voted a new general employee pay plan into place recently, assuring those employees of raises totaling at least 5 percent beginning in July.
The action comes in conjunction with finalization of the budget that will guide expenditures and project revenues for the 2023-2024 fiscal year. Both the new fiscal year and the employee pay plan is effective July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, following unanimous council votes.
The council debated the issue for two weeks as part of an effort by city officials to provide salaries that are similar to those paid to general employees in other cities. City administrators said the goal is helping recruitment efforts for vacant positions while also retaining the employees they have. Those new salaries will be funded, in part, by deleting 44 positions that have been vacant for at least six months, Acting City Manager John Ratliff said last week.
The new pay scale has three fewer pay grades than the existing 17-grade scale has, and 11 steps for every pay grade rather than the 17 steps now used. Finance Director Joe Don Dunham said while that means employees will remain in a grade and step for longer periods of time before moving up, those grades and steps will pay more than they do today. The scale sets the minimum pay for general employees at $15 per hour (it now is $9.37), then adjusts every other step and grade accordingly.
Council members delayed a decision on the new pay scale last week not because they opposed the plan, but because they and Mayor Stan Booker had questions about creating a fifth grade for the executive pay scale. That is the pay plan that governs salaries for the city’s top level administrators: department directors, deputy directors and some engineers.
That proposed fifth grade would set salaries ranging from $123,494.90 to $210,275.10. Now, Grade 4 (the top executive grade) tops out at $153,318.80. City administrators said the salary range in that proposed fifth grade was based on averages paid to such employees in five other “peer” cities that were surveyed, and even that proposed range is more than $7,000 below the mean average of those cities.
Booker said while he wanted to see the council approve the general employee pay plan last week, he wanted more information from other cities about their executive level employees, to include qualifications and job descriptions. Booker said he wants that information for all executive level positions and pay levels, not just the new E5 level, saying city officials need to ensure pay is enough to keep employees.
Council members indicated they would not make a decision on a new grade for the executive level until they had a chance to discuss those issues and how Lawton would compare with its peers, to include Edmond, Midwest City, Moore, Norman and Wichita Falls, Texas.
Human Resources Director Craig Akard said the proposal for a fifth grade centers on the fact there are some executive level employees who are “maxed out” at their grade, meaning they can’t receive any more pay raises while remaining in that grade. So, the proposal — as with the general employee grades — is to adjust those salaries upward to better reflect the market average, meaning creation of a fifth grade.
“Most of our executive positions are below market, significantly below market,” Akard said, adding the deputy city manager position is “very far behind” market value.