The city of Portage’s new job classification and compensation plan came to the city’s Human Resource Committee on Tuesday with a little advice from the consultant who presented it.

The plan, which will affect the pay of about 50 city employees, is ready to be presented to the Common Council, and could be implemented next year, said City Administrator Shawn Murphy.

But Patrick Glynn, a consultant for the Madison-based firm Carlson Dettmann — the same firm that created Columbia County’s pay plan for about 500 employees — said there are some policy and workplace issues that city officials might want to consider when they put the plan into effect.

For example:

  • One entity — probably the city administrator — should have full authority to hire city employees, although the position in the role would answer to the Human Resources Committee and the Common Council in terms of where a new hire is placed on the wage scale, as the council has ultimate responsibility for the spending of city money.
  • All city departments should engage in constant conversation about what is expected of employees, and what concrete factors determine whether an employee has exceeded expectations or done an outstanding job worthy of a merit-based pay increase. Those conversations, Glynn said, should not be limited to when an employee undergoes a performance evaluation.

“It’s not just something that operates itself,” Glynn said of the plan. “It’s going to require effort on the part of the administrator and department heads to communicate with each other as to what does and does not meet expectations.”

Murphy noted the city has had performance-based pay for employees for the last year and a half, but the Carlson Dettmann plan makes the process more precise.

“This gives us a little better understanding of the parameters that we would work within,” he said.

Glynn said the system, as proposed, would have 19 pay grades, with S as the highest and A as the lowest.

Where a particular job would fall in the pay scale would be based on a point system that considers job requirements such as problem-solving, decision-making, communications, work environment and formal requirements for the job (such as education or certification).

It’s possible, he added, to create a pay plan with one or more of the pay grades currently having no employees in them — to leave open the possibility that jobs created in the future might fit into that pay grade.

According to the executive summary that was included as part of the committee’s information packet, Carlson Dettmann recommends a process for employees to appeal their job classification, and suggests that appeals be limited to alleged errors of how a particular job is classified. Before Columbia County implemented its classification and compensation system in 2015, more than 90 employee appeals were filed.

Compensation and classification systems drafted by Carlson Dettmann are based on a study of comparable communities, but in Portage’s case, that posed a challenge.

Compared with a “market” that included 21 cities, five counties (including Columbia) and two villages, the city of Portage can’t afford a pay plan that would align with what comparable workers are paid in those communities.

“It’s not a matter of whether you are competing with the greater Madison area. You are,” Glynn said. “But the question becomes, how do you become reasonably competitive?”

When the “comparable” area is narrowed — to include only the 12 cities of Baraboo, Beaver Dam, Berlin, Columbus, Fort Atkinson, Jefferson, Monroe, Reedsburg, Ripon, Stoughton, Tomah and Waupun, while keeping the same five counties and two villages — the city of Portage is more competitive, Glynn said.

But, if in the future city officials have difficulty recruiting or retaining employees, the market can be re-evaluated, Glynn said. Columbia County is contemplating such a re-evaluation now.

Advancement on the city’s pay scale, as proposed, would be based on job performance. Glynn recommended that employees with documented unsatisfactory work performance be ineligible for any raise at all, even if the Common Council approves an across-the-board pay hike.

For salaried employees, the recommendation is that extra pay raises could be offered to employees who exceed job expectations or are determined to be “outstanding” — provided that the standards for such designations are clear from the beginning.

For employees paid by the hour, advancement on the scale would be based on meeting job expectations, but Glynn said the bar for meeting expectations should be high.

Mayor Rick Dodd agreed.

“I would hate to see employees get ‘exceeds expectations’ or ‘outstanding’ only for doing the job they were hired to do,” he said.

Glynn said it’s important that the city’s department heads are in agreement as to how the pay plan is implemented, and under what circumstances an employee may be rewarded with a designation of “exceeds expectations” or “outstanding.” A department head contemplating such a designation for an employee probably should consult Murphy first, he said.

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