A proposal to increase the minimum hourly pay for City of Lawton employees to $15 will be considered today by the City Council.
The discussion is one city administrators and council members have been having for months, as they work to balance the ability to recruit personnel into positions that go empty for months and sometimes years, against the ability to retain the personnel they have. City administrators have been blunt about the difficulty of recruitment, even before the COVID-19 pandemic shrunk the pool of job applicants. Those administrators say the city has been averaging 100 empty positions, with problem hire areas ranging from engineers to employees who hold commercial driver licenses.
That was part of the thinking when the city hired JER HR Group to analyze its pay structure and employee classification scale. The finding: the City of Lawton is more than 20 percent behind the market average for comparable cities, according to statistics cited by Human Resources Director Craig Akard.
That’s why Akard, other city administrators and the Employees Advisory Committee, have agreed on a recommendation to set the minimum pay — meaning the lowest per hour rate a full-time city employee makes — at $15. The rest of the pay scale then was adjusted to balance that base increase.
The recommended pay scale deletes General Employee (GE) pay grades 1, 2 and 3 (which range from $9.37 to $10.83 per hour), then sets the new baseline minimum wage at $15 per hour. Employees then are increased to higher steps at each pay grade, depending on time and experience. Now, an employee would have to move to GE8 (out of 17 pay levels) to hit $15 an hour.
The recommendation also increases the executive pay scale by one level, with that new E5 holding a pay range between $123,494.90 and $210,275.10. The highest executive level now is E4, which ranges from $87,360 to $153,316.80.
Council members have been discussing the need for higher pay for employee positions for months, with indications they may delete some long-empty staff positions to provide the funding to address the higher pay.
Under the new scale, entry-level pay would range from $15 an hour for GE04 (the most basic level) to $34.35 per hour for GE17 (the most senior). Each grade has 11 steps, with pay increasing in each step, with step 11 ranging from $24.45 for an GE04 to $56.10 for a GE17.
Finance officials said that pay raises for existing employees could range from 6.31 percent for a GE03 employee at the 8th step of his plan (taking his pay from $14.11 per hour to $15 per hour) to 31.81 percent for a GE03 employee at Step 2, now making $11.38 per hour.
The particulars of the plan also could be part of the discussion later in the meeting as council members address personnel costs in the preliminary budget for Fiscal Year 2024.
The council is returning to budget discussions as it moves closer to the deadline for having a budget in place for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Council members have discussed the preliminary budget in multiple special meetings, but haven’t made any final decisions. While the council could take some action today, they cannot vote to set the budget into place until they hold a public hearing for residential comments.
By state law, the budget must be in place seven days before the beginning of the new fiscal year.