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Cities in Utah County to boost staffers’ pay

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From Lehi to Spanish Fork, Utah County's five mid-size cities will enrich employees' salaries from 1 percent to 2 percent or more this next fiscal year, city finance officers say.

The financial overseers also said they expect little turnover in current staffs.

The five cities have populations that range from 23,000 to more than 28,000. They are Lehi, American Fork, Pleasant Grove, Springville and Spanish Fork.

Lehi and Spanish Fork plan the biggest cost-of-living pay hikes, with Lehi considering a 1.9 percent increase that will start in January and Spanish Fork looking at a 2 percent boost in July.

Springville, American Fork and Pleasant Grove are budgeting 1 percent increases into their new fiscal budgets that will start July 1. Those cities also give department heads the option to decide who gets pay increases rather than giving across-the-board raises.

In addition to the cost-of-living increases, the cities surveyed also give merit increases, generally from 2.5 percent to 3 percent. However, Pleasant Grove froze its merit increases last year, so most employees will get a higher cost-of-living increase and merit pay raise this year — totaling 6 percent, except for new hires, finance officer Gary Clay said. Permanent part-time workers will average a 4 percent cost-of-living and merit increase, he said.

Lehi's finance director estimated the city's average pay at $39,000 a year. In American Fork, treasurer and personnel director Pam Hunsaker calculated the average pay at $40,476 per year. Spanish Fork's average pay for a city worker is $47,112. In Pleasant Grove, finance officer Gary Clay said the average wage was comparable to the other four cities but could not cite a specific average wage.

"We look at (salaries) every year," he said.

Finance officer Dave Allen in Springville said he didn't know the average pay in that city.

"No one's ever asked me that before," he said.

Most cities start a full-time worker in the $25,000 annual pay range, while the top pay goes to the city administrator or city manager.

The pay ranged from $81,400 for Pleasant Grove's Frank Mills to Springville's $103,084 for Layne Long.

American Fork terminated its city administrator in January. A chief of staff and financial officer have since taken over those duties. But their combined salaries, each in the $50,000 range, aren't saving the city any money, Hunsaker said.

City finance officers said the general public has generally taken a ho-hum attitude concerning city pay scales. Clay hasn't heard a peep from constituents, while Springville's Allen says he, too, has never heard a complaint.

Spanish Fork appears to be the exception. Residents and at least two city councilmen there are beginning to question why that city pays more on average than other cities its size. When Mayor Dale Barney recently called for a consensus on the 17.99 percent annual retirement benefit city workers get, Councilmen Chris Wadsworth and Matt Barber dissented. When Wadsworth continued to object, Barney reminded him that a vote had already been taken.

Wadsworth said he believes the city doesn't have the population or tax base to pay the high wages or retirement benefits without putting greater pressure on taxpayers. The retirement benefit includes 9.06 percent that goes into the state retirement system and the difference that's socked away into a 401(k).

Property tax rates among the five cities are similar, however, with Spanish Fork actually the lowest of the five and Pleasant Grove the highest. Cities are avoiding raising property taxes, but some users fees are going up.

Councilman Seth Sorensen said the retirement benefit was "right in line" with other Utah cities, although he admitted he doesn't get that much on his job as a schoolteacher. Nebo School District contributes 11.7 percent to the state retirement system, plus 1.5 percent to a 401(k) for a total of 13.2 percent, a school district spokeswoman said.

On July 1, the state contribution will climb to 13.38 percent for teachers and 11.09 percent for city employees. If the money's there, Sorensen said, it should go to the city employees.

Resident Dan Willis said he believes the Spanish Fork pay scale is too high, especially for City Manager Dave Oyler. West Valley City — with a population of 116,000 — pays its manager close to $1 per resident, he said, but Spanish Fork pays Oyler more than $4 per resident.

"I don't know what his job requirements are," Willis said. "I just go with my gut."

E-mail: rodger@desnews.com