Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Nov. 8, 1999

Winsted council revisits pay scale

By Luis Puga

The Winsted City Council approved a salary step scale for city employees last Monday.

The meeting saw some anger from council members who were apparently frustrated with the process of determining how to compensate employees.

Apparently, city employees had requested a meeting with council members Gary Lenz and Tom Wiemiller. They had also invited City Administrator Aaron Reeves, but he was unable to attend.

The council members added they were there not to negotiate with the employees, but only to listen to their concerns.

Why those two council members were the only ones invited caused some disagreement. In general, it was felt that the employees thought Lenz and Wiemiller made up the coming year's personnel committee.

It was also thought that by inviting only two members, there would not be a quorum and therefore not a public meeting. However, Mayor Floyd Sneer questioned this conclusion and wondered why he was not included.

Sneer also took issue with an implication that the police department might be considering forming a union.

Lenz had said that the members of the department were unhappy with the most recent scale proposed in which starting salaries were lowered. The department also took issue with how those salaries compared to other cities and elaborated to Lenz that it might have to seek other options.

Sneer reacted by saying, "In other words, the police department said we'll join a damn union, right?"

Lenz replied that was a possibility, to which Sneer said the city could not afford to deal with a police union.

Lenz cited the difficulty of discussing people's salaries and how it causes emotions to rise due to the delicacy of the subject. He also noted the discussion was made more difficult by the public nature of a city council meeting and the presence of the media during salary negotiations.

Reeves noted that the city does need a step program to justify who gets a raise, who does not, and when they are given out. He added that it would be hard to please everybody, but observed that compared to area cities, Winsted is in line with what they pay their employees.

City Council Member Jeff Albers noted that the current proposed scale, which sets a maximum an employee can make, was a good one.

However, with the new information from Lenz and Wiemiller, he felt that the salaries, which are public information, should be published so the council could get public input on the matter. In general, the other council members discouraged that and Albers later said that comment was made in jest. But he maintained that the current scale was comparable to the public sector and the city should consider adopting it.

In general, the council agreed that there needed to be a maximum amount an employee could make. This was set as 15 percent of the pay after the fifth step. However, Reeves noted it should be somewhat flexible to respond to possible inflationary conditions.

Albers made a motion to accept the current proposed scale. The scale was accompanied by a 4 percent raise this year since the steps would depend on evaluations that the city will not have time to perform.

However, Wiemiller took issue with the starting salaries which he thought would be too low to attract any new police officers.

Reeves said, "You get what you pay for," and a common problem for all cities in the are which often lose patrolmen to the western suburbs and the county.

Wiemiller said that the employees had expressed a concern about those starting salaries being too low to attract competent persons.

The motion to approve the scale was defeated 3-1, with Albers the only member voting for the scale.

The council then turned its attention to looking at a pay scale proposed previously, which Reeves noted the council had dismissed because of the size of the raise the long-term employees received.

Lenz and Wiemiller said that as the scale would be calculated now, the only long-term employee above the fifth step of the first scale would be officer Gary Schott, who has been with the city for over 20 years. The rest would fluctuate in the middle range of the scale.

The scale was ultimately passed, with only Albers voting against it, and includes a higher starting salary and a 15 percent maximum from the fifth step. City employees will receive an approximate 4 percent raise for next year.

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