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Council approves compensation plan

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Employees at the end of their pay grade will receive lump sum payment

By Jennifer Garcia

Los Alamos County employees who have reached the end of their pay grade for their job title will get a lump sum payment as compensation, at least for another year.

During Tuesday night’s county council meeting, councilors voted 5-2 in favor of the lump sum payment. Councilors Michael Wheeler and Vincent Chiravalle voted against it.

Assistant County Administrator Diana Stepan reminded council that the agenda item was a follow-up to a council request made at a prior meeting.

Stepan explained that staff looked at various ways to compensate employees who have reached the end of their pay grade, but found that the lump sum payment option was still the best.

“We reviewed a number of options, such as extra vacation, but many people have sufficient vacation already and find it challenging to use. It didn’t seem like an appealing way to compensate them. We did review options and we recommend that we do a lump sum payment one more year,” she said.

Wheeler wanted to know what criteria is used to determine who gets compensated. Stepan said that staff evaluates the employees’ performance and the job that was performed.

Wheeler, however, was still not convinced of the process. “How does a lump sum reward them?” he asked. Stepan responded by saying that the lump sum is a “partial reward.” Wheeler then asked, “Why not bump them to the next grade?”  Stepan said, “We have to maintain the integrity of some system. My job is to make sure our pay for performance is implemented fairly.”

Council Vice Chair Sharon Stover wanted to know if there were any alternatives to the proposed compensation. Stepan said that other cities’ pay-for-performance policies had been reviewed to get an idea of how they handled compensation for employees at the end of their pay grade.

“The lab is clear in policy, there’s no promotion unless necessary. Santa Fe has determined to do a lump sum. Albuquerque applies a COLA (Cost of Living Allowance) to pay structure, so they have no pay for performance. Farmington does a similar adjustment to COLA,” she said.

Council Chair Michael Wismer asked Stepan about the merit of the compensation. “The merit recognizes a person’s performance. There are two components: One is based on the cost of living and there’s also a merit pool. You have a pool available to reward employees for their performance.”

Wheeler said that he finds the pay plan to be extremely rigid. “I don’t believe council’s hands are tied. I don’t believe we can’t direct staff to come back with a rule revision to get us through the interim period until a study can be done.

Following councilors’ comments, Stover moved to approve the revised compensation plan, which was seconded by Gibson. Wheeler offered a friendly amendment to the motion, but it was rejected by Stover.

“It seems like the most reasonable way to

recognize employees,” Stover said following the vote.

Councilor Robert Gibson, however, was seemingly not happy with the decision. “Our plan is broken. We’re proposing to put another Band-Aid on it … but this is probably the best we can do until we overhaul the overall plan.”

Councilor Ralph Phelps also seemed to have reservations about the plan. “It creates a dynasty mentality. It’s extremely important to get the job titles reevaluated,” he said.

Chiravalle also weighed in, saying, “What worked in 2001 isn’t necessarily the best strategy to use in 2010.We have to do something to correct this. Continuing to support this for one more year isn’t going to correct this. There have been too many years of lump sum payments.”