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Employee morale big issue as Wilmington budget talks start

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- Wilmington City Council met today to start talking about the city's next budget.

One of the issues that got the most attention, though, was employee morale.

Police Chief Ralph Evangelous says within the past six months alone he has lost four employees who left his department for better paying jobs. Now the city is trying to find a way to pay workers a little bit more.

"We have to retain our folks," Evangelous said. "It makes no sense for us to continue to hire and then people leaving the organization."

Monday Wilmington officials met to talk about a number of issues, including how to keep and retain city employees. Leaders say they have received several calls from constituents who say things need to be changed.

"It seems from our perspective and from what we are hearing is that these folks need the money now as opposed to defer that money down the road maybe 10 or 15 years, depending on how long they stay with the city, if they stay with the city that long," Mayor Bill Saffo said.

Evangelous and Fire Chief Buddy Martinette say they continue to lose qualified employees because of the current pay scale, which ultimately affects their employees' morale.

"I remember a number of years ago, I thought we implemented a base pay across the city of $29,000. That clearly is not the case, and we are continuing to pay a good deal under that," Councilwoman Laura Padgett said.

Chief Evangelous says morale is low because new employees are making the same as seasoned officers who have been on the force for at least five years.

"Wwe have some employees who are getting promoted who are jumping over incumbents who have been in office who have been in that position for a number of years," he said. "We have to fix the system."

Mayor Bill Saffo says council will continue to look at a number of options, including increasing take-home pay by putting more money in salaries as opposed to employee benefits.

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Full Support

I have always supported law enforcement and follow the wonderful heroic jobs they due. From my experience pay issues are unusual the cover up for deeper more concerning complaints. It seems to be a reoccurring pattern for the city officials to attempt to band-aid the real issues with minimal percentage pay raise. This is an obvious attempt to quiet an appease the troops. What bothers me is how the city waste no time or expenses to create high ranking positions for the police department's command. There was no hesitation to create not one, but two assistant chief positions, while not increasing the number of police officers, who, from a citizen's view, does the actual policing of the city. I hear Chief Evangelous talk mainly about funding the promotions. I have to question the need for all the "Chiefs" and so little "indians". I don't think that Wilmington is large enough to have as many ranking officers as Charlotte. Yet as the crime statistics show, Wilmington continues to be equally compared in crime as all the major cities. A quick glance, however, shows our police officers have to combat this crime with less manpower and far less pay. If it is the goal of the city council to save the tax payers money in the police department, they may consider how many officers can be payed compared to tbe single salary of so many Chiefs.

Memo to the Chief

pay and promotions are 2 distinct issues.

Pay is something the Council controls and should reflect time in grade among other issues.

Promotions are another story. Why should an employee, who shows initiative and pursues job associated continuing education, not be promoted over a senior officer who sits on his duff and and shows no initiative?

You can not control salary levels.

Chief, you can control promotions by the standards you set and leadership you display.

And don't forget Chief, good people will always look to better themselves. Have you always been in Wilmington? Or did you leave another department to become Wilmington's Chief?

Tom

did the city follow the State's lead in eliminating step increases based upon time in job? Another fine Democratic idea btw.
And while I agree with your question to the chief about NOT being here all his life that is far different than the lower ranks. What we want from them is stability. We want those 30 year veterans who know the ins and outs of the city.
I think it's time for a little "wage compression" here - bigger, MUCH bigger pay increases for the lower ranks, and more reasonable ones for the higher ranks. That way you attract more qualified folks to the department and hopefully groom those folks that show initiative for promotion as time goes by. There is no need to import higher ups........

Vog

VOG

do not disagree with you. my focus was on the Chief's poor attempt to cloud the real issue by bringing promotions into the discussion. That has no relevance to basic pay policies.

You misunderstand the

You misunderstand the promotion issue. Because officers/corporals/sergeants with pay compression from being in the same position for several years with very little in the way of raises, when a new person is promoted they start out at a higher rate because as the starting rank pay has increased, the people already holding the positions have not moved up in pay.

In 2008 the city did a pay study to fix the pay compression but it was not followed. The issue is NOT starting pay being $34,000. The issue is 10 year officers with bachelor's degrees, advanced certifications, selected as detectives (at WPD "detective" is not a promotion, no extra pay for much more work) are only making $41,000...and they can be making $55,000 somewhere else.

And the crummy benefits...a deputy with the county pays something like $100 a month for good family health insurance. An officer with a family (who is paid less to begin with) with the city pays $500 a month, for a plan that requires them to pay the first $4,000 every year out of pocket. That lowers that $34,000 a year down to $24,000 starting day 1 of the year. And when a deputy becomes a detective he gets a nice raise.

Afraid

you are the one who misunderstands.

Payroll policy is set by the Council.

Promotion criteria should be a function of leadership.

Bringing the County into the discussion does nothing but cloud the basic issue.

And remember, the budget sets the number of officers for each rank. You can not have all Chiefs and Captains with no street force.

Same holds true in the private sector. Rising stars often are forced to seek career changes for promotion.

City Council Continues to Miss It

As usual, the city council missed it again. It seems that they think morale issues are just about pay. While the pay scale needs to be restructured, the main reason for the police department's poor morale and inability to retain officers is a direct the upper administration's treatment of the officers. The staff has been called out on lying to its officers, blatantly disregarding preceedure's for specialized positions, and promoting junior officers over tenured officers based on gender, race, and test scores in lieu of job knowledge and performance. The officer's trust of the administration is of the way past. Officers frequently leave, finding better paying jobs (thankfully is easy to do) has always been an issue. However, a more serious issue has risen that the officers feel the department and city doesn't support or stand behind them. The last few incidents to make headlines in the news has the officers working in fear. Past actions of the administration has demonstrated to the officers a vindictive, retaliatory style of supervision. This "fear" is exactly the response the administration is seeking. With this in mind, a recent survey was sent out asking the officers their opinions. It is no wonder only a handful responded, and the only "safe" complaint was about pay. Maybe another PERF investigation is in need, instead of a manipulated in house survey.

More Than Money

While money is a factor, when morale is low I assure you it is a much deeper problem than simply salary. There is a management problem.

Lose / Lose

As a city of Wilmington employee I find it disheartening that city council says they were never aware of the low salaries. I hope that council members realize there is not one simple fix to a problem that has been ignored for the past ten years.

You can't just fix starting salaries and pay ranges without adjusting the pay of those in the positions. You also can't ignore the starting pay without continuing to see high turnover. And if you cut the amout of funding that go towards benefits, employees are still going to have to supplement their pay to afford higher premiums.

No one comes to work for a city to get rich. Yet the city of wiington employees at least deserve fair market pay for the jobs they do.

And if you increase WPD pay,

And if you increase WPD pay, try not to increase health insurance premiums so much that the takehome pay actually goes down.

How about increasing pay and decreasing insurance premiums.

And changing the workman's comp back.

And getting your officers 10% above the area average, so the best people apply. Rather than the 10% below that the city is aiming for (from the nearly 30% they are below now).

And equip the entire department with quality equipment like tasers and patrol rifles. At least all of patrol. And better sidearms.

And give them a training budget that moves them above the bare minimum.

Many more officers are looking to move on right now. The better ones, with several years on. How much does it cost to replace every officer that quits? $30,000? $40,000? More? Uniforms/BLET/Field Training/Benefits/etc.? And consider the years of experience you lose when a good officer says they are done with it.

Which is better, city council, hiring the best people and keeping them with good pay/benefits? Or hiring the good people who only want to use WPD to get training/experience and then go somewhere else where they are treated like they are actually appreciated after 5 years, and replacing knowledgeable officers/detectives with green rookies?

Some people think a cop is a cop is a cop. This is not true at all. Losing motivated, well trained and diversely experienced officers/detectives regularly is detrimental to the future of the PD. It also has a direct impact on the service the citizens get and the cost the citizens have to pay to replace these vacancies.

We read articles last year about how short the PD was and how many hours officers were working in overtime because of the vacancies. Until the new officers in training are released, patrol is still very short--a direct result of these policies that drive officers away.

Simple solution

All ya gotta do is warm up to the NHC school superintendent. Cha-ching!