EDITORIAL: More study needed on Auburn senior management pay

| The Citizen (Auburn, NY)

The Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscal watchdog organization for New York state government at all levels, has put out its annual “What They Make” report for municipal employees, and the results seem to indicate that Auburn city workers are getting paid well.

For 2014-15, Auburn had the highest average annual pay for non-public safety staff among central New York’s six cities. Auburn’s $45,454 average pay was 11.4-percent higher than the second best-paying city, Syracuse. By comparison, Cayuga County government workers made an average of $40,367, third highest out of five counties in central New York.

It’s with these numbers in mind that we urge city of Auburn officials to take the time for a more in-depth review of the salaries for 15 senior management positions not covered by union contracts before moving forward with pay increases currently being proposed.

The issue of management pay levels surfaced in Auburn in recent weeks just as Cayuga County was finishing up a months-long effort to bring non-union pay up to levels that were considered more competitive.

A key part of that work by the county was an analysis of the pay structures at a numerous other upstate New York counties. The findings showed that Cayuga County was generally below average, and with a number of employees expected to retire in the next handful of years, it made good sense to create a stable and competitive pay grid so these jobs can be attractive to future candidates.

It’s also possible that pay adjustments may make sense for Auburn, but the city council and city manager have more work to do in order to reach that conclusion.

Some city officials seemed to dismiss the Empire Center’s pay report as not relevant or misleading, and therefore not relevant to the discussion about senior management pay.

But that’s not an argument they can make until they look at the individual positions involved in this review, and see how their compensation packages compare with similar positions in other upstate cities.

There’s also been an argument that salary studies wouldn’t help because Auburn is such a unique city in terms of municipal operations, the most obvious difference being the landfill it owns and runs.

Perhaps that limitation applies to one or two jobs, but it can’t be the case for all of the jobs up for consideration. Most cities have police and fire chiefs, comptrollers, corporation counsels, planning and economic development directors, confidential secretaries, etc. It’s important to know how well the people holding those jobs in Auburn are doing compared with their colleagues in other communities.

And when that happens, the Auburn City Council will be in a much better position to make an informed decision about any salary adjustments.

© 2015 The Citizen