Subscribe to get tough, fair journalism seven days a week.
Subscribe today

Doing more with less

KEIZERTIMES/Andrew Jackson
KEIZERTIMES/Andrew Jackson

Of the Keizertimes

Recent discussion of Keizer’s salary survey and raises for city manager Chris Eppley and city attorney Shannon Johnson have brought a spotlight to the rather unique working conditions at Keizer City Hall – at least in comparison to comparable cities.

As mentioned last week in the Keizertimes, there have been some questions raised lately about the process and raises given to Eppley and Johnson. Both received 3 percent merit raises based on performance evaluations conducted by Keizer City Councilors, in addition to the 2.5 percent Cost of Living Agreement (COLA) raises other Keizer employees got.

Keizer’s salary survey, completed last year, raised the salary range for both Eppley and Johnson, allowing both of them to reach the new top steps of their respective ranges.

Machell DePina, director of Human Resources for Keizer, compiled salary ranges for city managers and city attorneys in January 2013 for the nine cities listed as comparables (Albany, Lake Oswego, McMinnville, Oregon City, Salem, Tigard, Tualatin, West Linn and Woodburn), in addition to Marion County and the state of Oregon.

The city manager range in adjusted compensation for Keizer at the time was $9,069.07 to $11,834.26 per month. The low end was 34.4 percent below the median; however, the high end was much closer, at 5.46 percent below. Most of the cities had a flat rate listed.

The city attorney range in adjusted compensation for Keizer at the time was $8,637.30 to $11,268.36 per month. Comparing salaries for the attorney to other cities was more difficult, as DePina found only about half of the other cities had a city attorney on staff.

As a result of the salary survey process, the city manager range is now $9,392.93 to $12,256.40 per month, with Eppley making the maximum amount. The city attorney range is now $8,521.07 to $11,115.87 per month, with Johnson making the maximum amount.

While Keizer aims to stay competitive in terms of salary, DePina said that’s made more challenging due to Keizer’s base tax rate of $2.0838 per $1,000 of assessed value being notably lower than comparable cities.

“We have a tax rate that is super low,” DePina said. “Is it realistic we can hire people commensurate with the tax rate? To provide services, it’s impossible if we hire only based on the tax rate.”

To stay competitive in terms of salary, the number of employees is lower than average. Including employees at the Keizer Fire District, Keizer has 115 full-time equivalent employees, or 3.13 per 1,000 residents.

Among Keizer’s comparables, the next lowest rate is Tigard with 5.72 FTE per 1,000 residents.

“A lot of those FTE (in other cities) are more community services,” DePina said. “Some of the services we choose not to have are a senior center and we have a limited city park staff. Some of the other cities have whole park departments. We have two parks employees.”

Another example is the library, run in Keizer by volunteers.

Like others at the city, DePina noted she wears a number of different hats.

“In Keizer, at any time, your job can change and you can take on something that was not on the radar when you started,” she said. “We spread the work out, sometimes move and shift things. We have to hire people that are flexible, have a big tool bag of skills and can shift. We try to be lean, responsive, try to get things turned around quickly and try to take advantage of good ideas and people volunteering.”

DePina has a list of things she looks for in prospective employees.

“The model can fail quickly if you hire wrong or if you don’t supervise or manage well,” she said. “We work hard and have our hearts in the right place. We hire people who don’t have pay as a top priority. Enabling the positive culture and valuing customer experience and public service are the top things I look for.”

DePina makes no bones about the need for employees to be flexible.

“How do we compete? We are lean and mean,” she said. “Here, people are always on duty. There’s nowhere to hide. You can’t blame three other people. Our employees enjoy the environment. No employee has said they feel disconnected. What each person does is critical.”