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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Pay studies find what officials already knew

For many people, it often seems that no matter who conducts a government pay study, the findings will show that the pay scales aren’t what they should be. Almost as frequently, the researchers conclude that the pay plan should be restructured.

Skeptics might opine that the first conclusion arises out of the research firm’s desire to produce something to justify its efforts, or because it employed a formula out of sync with the local economic circumstances.

But no, that isn’t it at all. The reason is that the consulting company found what the customer, in this case the Town of Berlin, already knew: that its wage scale was off as compared to similar government and private enterprise operations.

What the mayor and council needed from their consultant, PayPoint HR, was independently produced evidence to bolster their argument that something needs to be done. In other words, contracting for a pay study follows the trial lawyer’s rule of never asking a question in court without knowing in advance what the answer is going to be.

Because the difficulty in raising wages for government employees is not about what government can afford, but what the taxpaying public is willing to afford, pay studies are used to convince the public they need to afford these changes if they wish to continue to maintain the level of service they now enjoy. This isn’t a criticism, it’s an unpleasant fact in the relationship between local governments and their constituents.

As for the second of the pay study’s two findings — that the compensation plan needs to be restructured — that just makes sense. The matter of who gets paid what can become less orderly over time and both the public and the employees need a better idea of where things stand.

In business, pay disparities are easier to deal with, providing the money’s there. In government, not so much. Taking care of the public’s money and public employees at the same time can get complicated. Pay studies help by taking some of the pressure off the decision-makers.