Ocean View discusses employee compensation

The Town of Ocean View held a special workshop this week to review and discuss a 2016 employee compensation survey.

“We all want to do the right thing. We all want to take care of our employees, because I do think they’re exceptional,” said Mayor Walter Curran. “By the same token, we have a budget that we have to create.”

In 2012, the Town hired Hendricks & Associates Inc. to prepare a classification and compensation study to develop methods of compensating employees and create a 14-grade salary structure.

In 2014, the Town council approved and adopted an updated salary survey, which provided two separate salary range tables to eliminate confusion regarding employees who work 2,080 hours per year versus employees who work 2,280 hours per year.

On Jan. 24, the council reviewed Hendricks’ updated compensation survey, issued in November of last year. In all, 10 municipalities were surveyed, including Bethany Beach, Millsboro and Rehoboth Beach.

In his letter to the Town, Charles Hendricks wrote that the Town is still vulnerable to attrition.

“As the salary/midpoint ratio shows, employees make on average 10 percent less than market midpoint levels, which leaves them vulnerable to being hired away by the competition. This would be disastrous for such a small town that has virtually no back-up for the institutional memory that would be lost if this happens. With this in mind, I would recommend a salary budget increase of 7 to 6 percent if affordable.”

Town Manager Dianne Vogel said that the Town has approximately $12,000 left in the year’s budget with which to make salary adjustments.

“It won’t do much,” she said. “I think it’s the general sense of the department heads that maybe we don’t do anything with that $12,000. I don’t know; we’re not here to decide that this evening.”

Vogel said a 6 percent increase across the board, based on current salaries, would result in an $88,800 increase in salaries for the 2018 fiscal year, and over five years, the financial impact would be $470,000. She noted that not everyone would receive the increase if the Town chose to adjust salaries.

“What I see is… It tells me that we’re underpaying our employees, period. I think we should always look at what’s fair for the employees,” said Councilman Frank Twardzik. “Our employees are our most valuable asset.”

Twardzik said the Ocean View Police Department is one of the Town’s greatest assets, noting its recognition nationally, as well as the Town being rated the second-safest community in the state of Delaware by SafeWise.

“I want to do what’s right for the Town and what’s right for the Town employees,” he said.

Twardzik said he is willing to do whatever it takes and wouldn’t be opposed to changing things such as the Emergency Services Enhancement Funding Program or cutting back on concerts in the park in order to find the money to compensate employees.

Vogel noted that the Emergency Services Enhancement Funding Program money would not be something the council could use unless the related ordinance was revisited. She added that five contracts have already been awarded for the 2017 concerts in the park.

Councilwoman Carol Bodine said the council also needs to look at employee compensation in terms of future employees.

“We also need to think about, if someone leaves us, we want to attract the best of the best.”

“Eventually, someone has to do something,” added Councilman Tom Maly. “[Our employees] are our best asset. We should spend money on our best asset.”

Twardzik said Ocean View is a wealthy town that will continue to grow.

“If we look hard enough and work hard enough, I think we can come up with the funds,” he said.

He added that, if need be, a tax increase could be discussed.

“I know there are some people in this town that, any increase, however small, is tough for them. But I would say the vast majority — and I do mean the vast majority — of this town has comfortable pockets. A minor tax increase would not hurt them at all.”

Curran said the council should take a pause before considering a tax increase, noting he is “philosophically opposed to taxing to tax.”

Twardzik asked for honest comments from the department heads.

Public Works Director Charles McMullen agreed that raises should not be given without performance reviews, stating that employees need incentive to continue to do good work.

“Maybe you want to take a range of numbers,” he said, noting that an across-the-board increase might not be necessary.

OVPD Chief Ken McLaughlin said the need for increases to get employees up to competitive salaries had been ignored in the past, stating that he has one employee who would need a 32 percent increase in salary to be paid at a competitive rate.

“I just want to be fair to our people,” said McLaughlin. “There’s been a lot of promises to our folks in the past that have not been kept. I think it’s counterproductive… All I ask is that they get a fair salary.”

McLaughlin also recommended that the Town hold a meeting with all employees to discuss compensation, so that they can get information from the Town first-hand and ask questions.

Vogel again said the Town would not give a 6 percent raise across-the-board to employees.

“That needs to be based on years of service. What that ends up with, in the end, is perhaps someone getting a 10-percent raise and someone else getting a 3-percent adjustment. As long as the pool of money doesn’t exceed what is ultimately approved by council, those percentages are going to differ.”

The council agreed that they would like to see the 6 percent increase in salaries in the model for the budget drafts for the upcoming fiscal year.

“Our salaries may be average, but our people are above-average,” said Twardzik.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the council also reviewed a benefits survey, which was conducted last year, with 24 participating municipalities.

Staff recommended an increase in vacation leave, based on years of service. Vogel said the Town appeared to be behind in accruals with shorter bands of service.

Vogel recommended that the Town continue to allow employees to carry over accumulated leave of six weeks — 240 hours for non-police personnel and 252 hours for sworn officers.

It was also recommended that sick leave for Town personnel be increased from four hours per month to eight for non-police personnel and 12 hours per month for sworn officers.

The council will review a resolution to make the recommended changes at its Feb. 14 council meeting.