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4:14 AM Tue, Sept. 25th

Raises approved for Prescott city employees

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PRESCOTT - As of next week, raises will be in effect for Prescott city workers - the first such salary increase in half a decade.

Referring to the action as a step in the right direction, Prescott City Council members unanimously approved raises for many of the city's 472 workers.

Depending on their longevity with the city, employees could see raises as high as 4.5 percent for public safety workers, or 3 percent - plus a merit raise of as much as 2 percent - for non-public safety workers.

Since fiscal year 2008, falling revenues caused the city to eliminate employee raises from its budget. But City Councilman Charlie Arnold noted on Tuesday that the city is "starting to see stabilization of income," and should "provide what we can when we can" to its employees.

He and other council members were hopeful that the raises would help to curb the departure of trained employees, who have been leaving for higher-paying jobs elsewhere.

City records show that an above-average number of city employees left their jobs in recent years to find better opportunities.

A memo from Human Resources Director Mary Jacobsen noted that while the city's overall turnover rate has ranged in the 13-to-19-percent range over the past three fiscal years, the percentage of employees leaving for other jobs - rather than for retirement - has skyrocketed.

In fiscal year 2012, 17 percent of the city employees who left were going to other jobs. By fiscal year 2013, those seeking other jobs had grown to 40 percent of the total turnover, and in the first three months of fiscal year 2014, the number had grown to 41 percent. (The information excludes the June 30 Hotshot loss).

The top reason cited: lack of raises. In addition, Jacobsen's memo stated that employees did not see the city "as valuing employees by not prioritizing pay as a way to keep productive and loyal employees."

The numbers also showed that many of those leaving the city's employment for other jobs were educated, highly trained employees, with an average age of 38.

"The facts substantiate the common knowledge that good employees need to be compensated and feel they are challenged, of value and have a place in the organization where they are working toward common goals," Jacobsen concluded.

Councilman Jim Lamerson referred to the city's efforts to deal with its lower salaries as "a work in progress." He added: "It's a shame the economy is what it is, and it's a shame we went backwards for a while, but we're trying to address it."

In an attempt to deal with "compression" (the situation in which new employees are earning virtually the same salary as those with four or five years of experience), the city will award 4.5-percent raises to police officer and firefighters who were hired between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008 or before.

Those with less longevity with the city will get smaller raises. For instance, those hired between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009 will receive a 4 percent raise, while those hired between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013 will receive 1 percent. Those hired in the current fiscal year (July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014) will not receive a raise.

The non-public-safety workers will have a similar, but separate schedule, with those hired between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008 or before receiving a 3-percent compression-related raise, and those hired in the current fiscal year receiving no raise. In addition, the non-public safety employees will have the possibility of receiving a 2-percent merit increase.

Although the city budgeted for the raises this past summer, the council deferred a decision on whether to allocate the money.

City Manager Craig McConnell estimated the annual cost of the raises at $1.4 to $1.5 million, although he noted that the cost would be less this year because the city is already about four months into its fiscal year.

The raises will become effective on Oct. 27, the first day of the next pay period, and will show up on the city's Nov. 15 paychecks.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter: @Cindy_Barks.