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New employee benefits stir council debate
Holiday, vacation policies born of compensation study
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The Great Bend City Council approved changing when newly elected officials take their oaths of office.

The compensation study commissioned by the Great Bend City Council looked at more than just pay, Human Resource Director Randy Keasling told the council Monday night. To improve employee retention and make the city more attractive to younger workers, other benefits are also important.

“We want to make Great Bend a destination employer,” Keasling said. This is why he brought vacation and holiday policies updated by the administrative staff to the governing body. 

The changes better align Great Bend with other municipalities, he said. There is also more focus on work-life balance, by adding two extra holidays (Presidents Day and Christmas Eve) and shortening the time it takes to accrue vacation time.

But, the revisions met with resistance and after much discussion and both passed on a narrow 4-3 vote. Voting for were council members Dan Heath, Cory Urban, Joel Jackson and Andrew Erb, and voting against were Brock McPherson, Jolene Biggs and Vicki Berryman.

Opponents of the measures were concerned about the cost, especially in light of looming major capital expenses, such as repairs to the Great Bend Expo Complex. 


The discussion

It was Biggs who felt the council has been blind sided by costly projects not included in the recent budget-planning process, noting this was something else unexpected. Those big-ticket items should be addressed first.

“We’re talking about taxpayer money,” McPherson said, in agreeing with Biggs. “I think we need accountability and responsibility. This is not a good use of dollars.”

The additional expenses to the city from the additional holidays would be around $20,000 each for emergency services, City Administrator Kendal Francis said. But, other employees would be paid whether they were working or not.

McPherson disputed an article presented by Keasling about what younger people, particularly millennials, looked for in a job. “I don’t think that fits Great Bend at all.”

Besides, McPherson said, the council already approved pay raises for city staff. “I think we’re going overboard.”

Councilman Heath challenged these assertions. “There are only a finite number of reasons a young person would stay here,” he said.

Making Great Bend more attractive is necessary due to increased competition, he said. “There are a lot more options. Things have changed.”

Sure, the council has to be fiscally responsible, but the debate Monday night only divides the city and create hard feelings, he said. “We don’t want to send the wrong message to the staff.”

In addition, Keasling said looking at central Kansas, there are hundreds of job openings. So, there are lot of employers vying for the same available work force.

“You committed to finding out how we stack up” to other cities, said Francis, referring to the $31,725 study conducted by Gallagher Benefit Services, a human relations consulting firm from Kansas City, Mo. The holidays and vacation policies were the second part of that.

The council has already approved raises. The final part, retirement issues, will be addressed at a later date.  


Background

In May, the council held a special afternoon meeting to hear a report on the compensation study. A divided council approved commissioning the study from Gallagher last December to compare it with other communities in terms of employee salaries. This followed last summer’s police department controversy. 

In the end, a draft of the report indicated most city positions were in line with market averages, but shortfalls were found in the Police and Fire departments. It was also clear that the city would have to move from basing pay raises on longevity to basing them on performance.

In addition, it suggested pay ranges for city positions and benefits, along with a revised policy manual.

The study proved to be a controversial project. Some on the council at the time balked at the price, noting this should have been the job of the newly hired Keasling.

This marked the first time since 1999 that the city has undergone a comprehensive wage and compensation study.