SOUTH PORTLAND — The city manager is proposing significant wage increases for non-union employees in a bid to fill vacancies in the midst of what’s shaping up to be a staffing crisis.

Councilors heard from several senior staff on Tuesday who said while there is high job satisfaction among employees, South Portland “is having an extreme difficulty hiring people” under the pay structure, Finance Director Greg L’Heureux said.

“We have to do something,” and providing raises has now become “an extremely high priority,” he added. Stephanie Weaver, the human resources director, agreed, saying the city is facing a significant challenge when it comes to successfully recruiting and retaining employees.

South Portland Finance Director Greg L’Heureux said the city is experiencing “extreme difficulty” hiring people under the current pay scale. That’s why he’s recommending wage increases and an updated compensation policy for non-union employees. Courtesy

She said nearly 70% of city employees are “stuck at the top step” of the pay scale, meaning they’re not only missing out on raises, but they’re also getting further and further behind their contemporaries in comparable positions in comparable communities.

Implementing the new pay scale for fiscal year 2020-21, consultant Rick Campbell from PayPoint HR in Maryland said, would cost the city just over $190,000 from the general fund.

In answer to a question from Councilor Misha Pride, L’Heureux admitted that number represents “a pretty substantial impact on the budget,” and is more than he and Morelli initially envisioned when Campbell first began the study. He also said that providing pay raises to current employees will likely mean the city won’t be able to fund any of the new positions some departments are requesting.

Weaver said the city has not updated its pay scale policy for non-union employees since 1987 and it’s “high time we look at this issue.”

In studying the wage issue for the city, Campbell told councilors the key is ensuring employees are being compensated fairly and given “enough running room to want to spend their career in South Portland.”

In reviewing the current pay structure, Campbell said there are a wide range of job titles where people are being compensated well below the market rate, including important positions like the deputy fire and police chiefs and the economic development director.

In order to “fix the current situation and plan for the future,” Campbell recommended immediately offering raises to a host of employees and also create a new pay scale that provides wage increases at specific points, including merit raises at specific steps.

L’Heureux said he could not yet estimate the impact of the pay increases on taxpayers because it would depend entirely on what comes out of the budget planning process that’s now underway.

While Pride and Councilor April Caricchio both had concerns about the budget impact, both also agreed with other councilors that providing raises now and implementing a new pay scale for the future are steps the city should take.

Pride said employees are the city’s “most precious resource.” And while he called the $190,000 hit to the budget “big,” he also said “it’s not insurmountable and what really resonated with me about this study is that we can’t fill our vacancies with the best people we can get.”

In summing up Tuesday, Councilor Katelyn Bruzgo said, “investing in employees and offering fair wages is one of the most important things we can do as a city.”


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