Personnel costs make up the major portion of local government budgets. The money should be well spent. Taxpayers should get the services that they expect and employees should be compensated appropriately for the services that they provide. The challenge for local government officials is making sure that this happens. To make it happen, a local government needs up-to-date job descriptions, a classification system that groups similar positions, and a pay plan that sets the pay range for each classification.
Unfortunately effective management of human resources in local government does not always happen. When things are running well, it is easy ignore the fact that the job descriptions do not reflect the work being done, and that the classification system and pay plan have little to do with actual employee pay. When things are not running well, there are always more important issues than reviewing the personnel system.
Now is always a good time to start the process of reviewing the personnel system. The review can be taken in steps and spread out over months. The first steps are to up-date job descriptions and create new ones where they do not exist. It is usually best to have one person do the final drafting so that similar duties are consistently described across all of the job descriptions. This makes the next step, creating a classification that groups similar positions, much easier.
The last step, creating a pay plan, should be based on both a review of current pay and a survey of what other employers pay for similar positions. The goal should be to provide internal consistency, making sure that positions with similar responsibilities are in the same pay range, and to provide external competitiveness, making sure that positions are paid consistent with labor market if the pay system is intended to assist in attracting a high quality workforce.
Getting information to determine that external competitiveness can be difficult, but there are a number of resources that local governments can use. The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes both private and public compensation data on its Website. Local government associations also collect and publish compensation information. For example, the Allegheny League of Municipalities has surveyed local governments on compensation and benefits, and provides a report to the municipalities that participated in the survey. Other sources include the International City/County Managers Association, Pa State Association of Boroughs, and the PA State Association of Township Supervisors. Additionally, interns available from the LGA Municipal Internship program have assisted municipalities in data collection, usually as part of a larger project.
Finding the time to go through a review of your job descriptions and pay system can be difficult and many local governments look elsewhere for help. The Local Government Academy provides many training programs on personnel matters and, through its Technical Assistance Program, has assisted local governments with reviews of their personnel systems. Additionally, a number of private sector consulting firms provide assistance in developing compensation plans. Professional organizations, such as the Society for Human Resource Management can provide contact information for such.
Effectively managing your municipality’s human resources is important to assure maximum taxpayer value through higher productivity, improved morale, and reduced legal costs. If you have knowledge and/or experience in public sector human resource management, or are a local official concerned about this important topic, consider participating in LGA’s “Pillars of Good Government” project. As a member of the topic team on Public Human Resource Management, you will be part of an ongoing discussion and defining of excellence in local government.
Our thanks to Dr. Michael Weir, LGA Consultant who has performed a number of job analysis and compensation reviews, for contributing to this article.