Indian Trail Workshop Considers Changes In Staff Benefits

The Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors.

The Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors wrestled with its organizational and salary-range chart at a workshop Wednesday, April 17, trying to keep staff salaries and benefits competitive, so it does not lose experienced staff in a competitive job market.

Human Resources Attorney Lara Donlon said the board was not going to make decisions that evening, but she was looking for direction as to what board members want to see as far as policy.

“We gathered information on a variety of employee benefits that are pretty typical in the local government arena,” Donlon said. “I’m going to be providing you a very general overview of what we found in terms of comparable entities.”

Donlon said that ITID is pretty much in line for benefits when compared to other governmental entities.

“We don’t have a lot of recommendations for change,” Donlon said. “For example, the vacation leave policy ranges anywhere from 80 hours to 160 hours a year of accrued vacation, and that is fairly in line with other districts’ range that we pulled.”

Similarly, with sick leave policies, ITID offers 96 hours of sick leave annually.

“Other municipalities and districts range anywhere from zero to 96, 84 to 104 for districts,” Donlon said. “We think that’s in line with what other folks are doing.”

Donlon said that ITID does have an emergency sick leave pool that employees can contribute to for other employees who have incurred a serious illness, similar to what 75 percent of other districts offer and what 40 percent of municipalities polled offer.

Donlon suggested that the district eliminate this policy but investigate offering a long-term insurance policy and possible short-term disability insurance.

“One of the reasons for that is the emergency sick leave pools, even though employees are not supposed to lobby and pressure their co-workers into giving, certainly it’s well known in a small organization,” she said. “Employees may feel pressured, so we feel like if it’s an insurance-based program, we don’t have those popularity contests going on.”

Donlon said the district offers 40 hours of bereavement leave annually for immediate family and 20 hours per year for extended family.

“Compared to other entities, that seemed a bit high,” Donlon said. “Staff is recommending a reduction to 20 hours for immediate family and 10 hours for extended family.”

Staff recommended a continuation of the district’s tuition reimbursement program, which is provided by most districts and half the municipalities, with some modifications.

Donlon said there are no recommended changes to the district’s Florida Retirement System policy. “Not all districts have it, and not all cities have it, but it is a plan that employees do like,” she said.

There are also life insurance policies paid 100 percent by the district.

“Other districts do offer that consistently,” Donlon said. “Cities all offer it as well. The benefits vary, but staff is not recommending any changes to this program.”

Donlon noted that ITID contributes 100 percent for health coverage for employees but requires a contribution for dependents, which is in line with other districts.

The survey also looked at the wage data of other districts and municipalities.

“What we found, basically, was the district was fairly well in line with most of the wage scales,” Donlon said, adding that the only difference is that the district lags in the area of the maximum range for five of its higher-level maintenance positions, the superintendent, the crew chief and equipment operators.

“Staff has proposed an increase in the maximum part of the range for those positions,” she said. “But we also want to be clear… that we do have some people at the maximum cap right now, so if the board were to authorize across-the-board increases for next year, some people would be impacted.”

Donlon said the district has four people maxed out at their current pay positions who would not get raises, and nine more people capping out the following year.

Supervisor Tim Sayre asked what the financial impact would be to the district for those 13 people, if it gave a 3 percent across the board cost of living raise that was recommended last month, and Donlon said the total effect would be about $13,000 based on the salary scale and not including other benefits.

ITID President Betty Argue said she had gone back and looked at the policy the board adopted less than two years ago.

“It came as a surprise to me that we weren’t competitive, and we just recently went through this whole process and made adjustments in October 2017,” Argue said. “When we adopt these salary ranges, we’re adopting it based on what we’re willing to pay based on what we think that position is worth… The fact of the matter is that the job is only worth this amount in the market. For the most part, I reject any proposal to amend any of these. I think we are very competitive salary-wise.”

Sayre said he disagreed.

“If we have a job sweeping the street, and we know the max pay that person should receive for it is $20, we don’t bring them in at $20,” he said. “You try to bring them as cheap as you can… So, you bring them in at $12. They do their job, they gain experience. Experience is worth money, and you know the job is worth $20, so slowly but surely, they move up and they get more money. If other places are offering $25 for street sweepers, then you have to adjust or you’re going to lose the people who have the experience. Everything I’m looking at here, we’re low.”

Supervisor Joni Martin agreed with Sayre that she wanted to keep experienced, competent staff at the district. “If they’re doing their job properly, I definitely think we should be more in line with the other districts and cities,” Martin said.

Supervisor Michael Johnson asked if there was a probationary period for new employees, and District Manager Rob Robinson said there is a six-month trial period.

Argue said she felt that staff members should have the opportunity to move to other salary brackets if they show incentive to learn new skills and, therefore, become more valuable.

Robinson said some staff members are very happy cutting grass and have no desire to be a heavy equipment operator. “They’ve been doing it for many years, but there would be no motivation to be capped out,” he said. “They don’t feel comfortable operating an excavator or a grader. They’re very happy at what they do.”

Argue asked if it would be beneficial to create specific positions for certain skill sets, such as grader operator. “Rather than try to fit everybody in this box, you add some positions and recognize that those positions require a little more of a skill set?” Argue asked.

Sayre asked how many equipment operators have left the district voluntarily, and staff said five.

Donlon said she was looking for a consensus to bring back to the board. The board will further consider the changes discussed at its May meeting.