Ottawa Ohio - Putnam Sentinel
OTTAWA — Employees of the Village of Ottawa have something few workers ever find: proof positive that they are underpaid.

Last year, partly in response to concerns over employee turnover, the Ottawa Village Council directed the implementation of a study into employee compensation. At a cost of $10,500, council solicited The Archer Company, a Dublin-based human resource management consulting firm, to conduct the study, results of which were recently released. In short, over half of village employees — 14 of 26 — fail to receive what The Archer Company described as a minimum payment level and none are compensated at the company’s determined mid level. Included in the list of those short of the minimum is the entire police force, with the exception of Police Chief Rich Knowlton, and the entirety of the village’s public works department, including Public Works Supervisor Dan Lehman. Also on the list was one utilities operator and a billing coordinator

In determining the compensation ranges for each of 19 positions, Archer compiled salary data from a range of regional governments selected by council, including the Villages of Archbold, Bluffton and Leipsic, as well as the Cities of Celina, Defiance, Delphos, Findlay and Lima. Also considered was data gleaned from an Economic Research Institute salary survey in the Toledo area. From that information, Archer stated employees were missing an average minimum compensation rate by as much as over $6,000 in the case of one police officer to as little as just over $200 in the case of another. All told, to bump those employees shy of the minimum to at least the minimum, the village is looking at an additional $71,000 per year; a payroll increase of over 5.5 percent.

For Knowlton, the results came as no surprise.

“Through the whole process with the personnel committee and (Municipal Director) Jack Williams in meetings, my main concern was I knew the officers were — I don’t mean to make it sound bad — but underpaid,” Knowlton said in discussing the results. “My main goal was to get them up to where they should be, to get my officers’ pay up there a little bit. It’s all official now.”

Mayor Dean Meyer echoed Knowlton’s understanding.

“For a lot of years we didn’t pay enough to keep our employees here,” Meyer said. “What we need to do is make up that difference and make sure we can keep our employees and attract good employees in the future. A big part of that is wages and benefits and we have to make sure we’re in line with where we need to be. I have full confidence in our council to get us to that point. We’re going to be at the point where we’re a really attractive place to work. Of that I have no doubt. We have a great workforce and I just want to make sure we keep them here and keep them happy.”

Having said that, Meyer remarked that in at least one area, the village has a lot to offer its employees.

“We offer really good health insurance and the employees don’t pay an awful lot of that,” Meyer said. “What the study didn’t do was check on how everybody handles insurance. This was strictly salary. We have a very good insurance policy. Now our employees do pay a percentage for dependents, so that’s something that has to be taken into consideration, too, where we didn’t use to charge anything. But we still have a very good insurance policy.”

As part of the determining fair compensation, village administrators are working to develop salary criteria; criteria that includes years of service and accreditations. Under such a system, employees have the opportunity to exceed the minimum once the increases are implemented.

“Right now we’re going through everyone’s files and writing down what job duties each officer in my department has other than basic law enforcement,” Knowlton said. “Training, certifications, stuff like that. And years of service.”

As for when council will begin implementing such increases, the answer gets a bit fuzzy.

“I don’t know what council’s going to do,” Meyer said. “I can’t speak for council and you’ve seen over the past, we don’t always agree on things. Council went on record as saying, ‘We will begin implementation at least by June of this year.’ They may do this as one lump sum or they may do this over the course of several years. I don’t know what’s going to happen there for certain. I know we will be in line when it’s implemented. We will be within the boundaries of every other municipality that we’ve checked with.”

Not surprisingly, the bottom line is the bottom line. The village must have the financial resources available to accommodate higher salaries for the majority of its workforce.

“We’re working with that, too,” Meyer said. “But, yeah, I think we can get to that point; we’re making sure we can get to that point. And you know why? Because we have to. We have to be able to retain our employees and attract new employees. If we don’t, what are we going to do?”