Crestwood employee pay falls short of nearby cities

Crestwood salaries compared to pay offered by nearby cities

By Kari Williams

A number of Crestwood employees, including firefighters, earn far less than their peers in such nearby cities as Kirkwood and Richmond Heights.

City Administrator Petree Eastman presented that information to the Ways and Means Committee last week while discussing a pay plan for city employees.

The Board of Aldermen voted earlier this month to withdraw a proposed one-time, lump-sum pay adjustment for city employees but wanted to pursue a pay plan.

Eastman said she believes the first decision before calculations begin is to determine how the Board of Aldermen wants employee salaries to compare to those of comparable cities.

Using an example of salaries for firefighter and paramedic employees, Eastman said she examined comparable cities’ minimum, average or actual and maximum pay to see where Crestwood ranks.

“Then there’s a graph that shows those four metrics, the average, minimum, the Crestwood average, the average amongst all of them and/or actuals, depending on the position and the maximums, because some people just give us ranges and don’t tell us what they’re actually paying,” Eastman said at the Jan. 17 meeting.

The Crestwood average is $51,264 per firefighter.

The average of five other cities — Kirkwood, Maplewood, Richmond Heights, Rock Hill and Webster Groves — is $59,819, a 16.7-percent difference in pay, according to Eastman.

If Crestwood would like to reach average salaries, Eastman said for the 12 employees she compared, it would cost $102,000 to reach that average.

“There was, on average, an $8,500 difference between what we’re paying and what the average is,” Eastman said. “And so for every job category we’re doing this, and the tedious part of it is trying to compare apples to apples the best we can,” she said.

Of the comparisons Eastman has run, she said Crestwood was always “significantly below average.”

One conducted for an accounting clerk position was 9.2 percent below the average, costing around $3,000 to raise the pay from $35,000 to $38,000.

A 15-percent increase would be needed for Crestwood recreation manager salaries to reach average.

“That’s why what will drive this process is not so much what whatever the simple calculations are, but it’s where do you want to see us? Where should we be shooting and how long can we take to get there knowing that say, like we are 26 percent behind in firefighter pay, and we want to be average,” she said.

Eastman said budget expectations will have to be adjusted knowing the average will keep climbing.

“Should we be looking at trying to meet the average of our peers or should we just be having a plan to increase it 1 percent or 2 percent a year for ‘X’ number of years?” Eastman said. “What should be the guiding policy for this so that what we give you is actually useful to you? And it will inform your decisions about revenue and other ways to cut.”

The city’s 2012 budget includes no salary increase for employees, whose pay has been frozen since 2009.

“If we could set a standard, such as trying to get to minimum, we don’t have to keep coming back to you for this question. We know that we want to be at least at the average,” Eastman said. “So it gives us a good guidance and then we can give you a product that you can actually endorse and pass.”

Ward 1 Alderman Darryl Wallach, who serves on the Ways and Means Committee, said health and pension benefits compared to other cities should be included in Eastman’s calculations, though she said the city has less control over those items.

“That needs to be compared too because we’re talking about the whole picture of it …,” Wallach said.

Eastman should bring a comprehensive report to the Board of Aldermen so the board can see what direction it wants to take, according to Wallach.

However, Eastman said she believes that is backward.

“We need to know what kind of approach you want to take so that we can create that comprehensive report because I’ll have to make assumptions making that report otherwise,” Eastman said.

Wallach said it would help aldermen to know where the city stands in comparison to neighboring cities.

“It would help me as a Board of Aldermen (member) as to where we actually are …,” he said.

Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild, who also serves on the committee, said he likes the approach of the board telling Eastman where salaries should go, but he would prefer the whole comparison be brought to the board when completed.

“What I would suggest is do that study with the other cities, the comparisons and so on with health and pensions and all that, and then bring it to the board in a work session. That may be the easiest way to go … just so we could talk about that first piece and so everybody can see transparently where we are,” Duchild said, “And I think that will shed a big, big light on things.”