City engineers get boost in pay
June 9, 2008 · Updated 2:33 PM
But public works projects remain slowed by staff shortages caused by the recent exodus.
With many road improvement projects stalled, the city hopes fatter paychecks will provide a much-needed jumpstart.
The City Council last week voted to increase the pay for top-level city engineers from about $72,000 to $85,000 per year. The move is aimed at filling key staffing gaps and retaining workers in an increasingly competitive market.
The department is struggling, said city Public Works Director Randy Witt. Were trying to move forward but many (projects) are going slower than we hoped.
Engineer vacancies have contributed to delayed projects, including bike lane construction, road stabilization on steep slopes and work at the Japanese-American internment memorial.
The dearth of engineers has also crippled the departments ability to deal with unforeseen issues, such as the states proposal to link a Port Madison neighborhood to a sewer treatment system proposed for Fay Bainbridge State Park.
The Public Works Department has about nine open positions, including two spots for two engineers and two engineering technicians.
Five engineering staff resigned last year, most of whom found higher pay in the private sector, where typical compensation ranges around $90,000 to $104,000.
Councilman Kjell Stoknes said the higher pay, although falling short of the average, will likely help the department draw in new staff and encourage existing workers to stay with the city.
I think the council owes it (to Public Works) to give it the tools it needs to hire in a difficult environment, he said.
Others disagreed with the pay raise, sparking a 4-3 council vote.
The total $209,000 pay increase without corresponding budget cuts puts the city on a irresponsible course, said Councilman Nezam Tooloee.
Fiscally, this is not sustainable, he said. Our highest duty is our fiduciary duty.
Tooloee also warned that the pay raise will cause ripple effects throughout City Hall leading to bigger paychecks for other positions.
This rush into increasing salaries is, in fact, a wholesale slide up across the city, he said. By how much? We dont know.
Rather than focus on hiring staff to meet current demands, some on the council suggested the city simply demand less.
Is our (capital plan) realistic? asked Councilman Bob Scales. We have not been able since Ive been on the council to complete any capital improvement plan. We can throw more money at it...but another way is to reform our internal policies because were setting ourselves up for future failures.
Councilwoman Debbie Vancil agreed, but cautioned that capital projects often swell according to public appetites.
Why keep the pie-in-the-sky expectations? she asked. Were not dealing with what we can do.
But even the current pace of project completion is a heavy burden on over-worked and under-paid staff, said Witt.
The guys doing the work are going nuts, from a work stress perspective, he said. I worry about that. If people burn out, theyll take another job.
Private sector and federal jobs typically pay better, are less stressful and, because engineers see projects to completion, are more fulfilling, according city engineers who left the city in the last year.
Engineers on the lookout for a new job also enjoy a wide array of enticing offers.
The U.S. government estimates that the civil engineering field will grow by nearly 20 percent over the next seven years. American universities, meanwhile, churn out nearly 70,000 engineers each year.
Even as young people queue for a place in the engineering school enrollment line, added outsourcing overseas and importing foreign talent have failed to satisfy domestic demand, according to the National Society of Professional Engineers.
Upping the ante to $85,000 wont necessarily make the city flush with engineers, but it will bring them to the table, Witt said.
At $85,000 we can talk, he said. Like any life decision, its not just about money. But if the moneys not fair, I cant even talk to them.