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Gainesville approves pay study, raises for current employees
City wants to be competitive with counterparts in Georgia
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In other business

In other business, City Council on Tuesday earmarked an additional $380,000 for proposed renovations to Roosevelt Square, which is tucked between City Hall, an administration building, the courthouse annex and the Brenau Downtown Center.

With $620,000 already budgeted, city officials are now ready to pour about $1 million or more into the project.

The square is largely hardscape, but design plans call for an 80-foot by 125-foot green space, plus a feature mimicking water running over falls and across shoals, additional trees and vegetation, and better connectivity between the pedestrian bridge, the square and downtown Gainesville.

City officials hope to attract more use and events to the square, named for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The price tag for the first phase is estimated at $952,000, and includes construction costs, a 20 percent contingency and a 15 percent fee for design and permitting.

A second phase is projected to cost $161,000, but this estimate does not include an additional proposal to renovate and expand the parking lot outside City Hall.

Construction will likely take from four to six months, officials said, and a proposed timeline calls for opening the renovated square to the public in the early summer of 2016.

Proposed renovations at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue also got a jolt of funding.

Council on Tuesday also agreed to pony up $250,000 in advance for improvements to the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue.

Money for the renovations was to come from revenue generated through a new round of special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST VII, but city officials said they would give the venue the funding upfront to help prepare for hosting the 2016 Canoe/Kayak Pan American Championships.

On average, employees of the city of Gainesville earn 7.7 percent less for entry level pay than their counterparts elsewhere in the state, and 2.1 percent below market at the middle of each pay grade, according to the results of a new study released Tuesday.  

City Council voted to implement the findings of the long-awaited pay study over the next two years, giving salary increases to most workers beginning in late July.

However, with changes in the pay scales, no merit or cost-of-living increases will be given to employees in the 2016 fiscal year, which begins July 1.  

City officials pushed for a pay study last year following complaints from the police and fire departments about how low wages were leading to attrition among trained staff.

The pay study, which collected salary and benefit information from 41 cities and nine counties, matched more than 100 city jobs to equivalent positions elsewhere.

Public safety positions provided the closest comparisons.

According to the study, firefighters earn 11.6 percent below the market average at the bottom of the pay grade, and 11 percent less at the midway point.

Police officers, meanwhile, make about 4.8 percent less than the market rate at entry level, and 4.2 percent less at the pay grade midpoint.

The study was designed to move pay for city employees closer to rates for similar positions in similar communities to ensure that good workers can be retained, while also reducing the need and costs of training new personnel.  

“We’ll try to do one (study) every three years going forward,” said Mayor Danny Dunagan. “If you want to keep the employees, you have to pay them.”

The FY16 general fund budget includes $800,000 for employee salary raises, and officials will earmark an additional $20,000 to cover more pay hikes.

Additionally, officials will likely tap other funds, such as those tied to the public utilities, parks and recreation, and solid waste departments, as well as the Community Service Center, to cover another $330,000 in raises for employees.

Public safety workers will receive 55 percent of their total salary adjustment under the new pay scale in the first year.

As an example, consider an employee who is currently making $35,457 in salary, which is 85 percent to the midpoint of pay grade 17.

After implementation of the new pay structure, the midpoint will rise to $44,026. So this employee will have their salary bumped up to $37,422 over two years.

A $1,000 one-time bonus is recommended for workers not affected by changes to the pay scale.

The good news for workers, however, was tempered by Councilman George Wangemann.

He said he is worried about how rising health care costs will be paid for in addition to salary increases.  

Health care claims for city employees are projected to grow to $6.858 million in 2016 from $3.617 million in the 2011 fiscal year.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about what (pay increases) can do to our budget,” Wangemann said.

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