Casper officials will consider adopting a new compensation model that focuses on advancement opportunities for city employees, after hearing a proposal at its May 14 work session.
For the past two years, city staff have been discussing how to prevent wage stagnation for city employees, City Manager Carter Napier said.
The problem they have been facing, Napier said, is once city employees rise through the already established wage band progression, there are not many opportunities for them to advance further or earn higher wages outside of cost-of-living increases.
“It seems like a prescription for how to lose people once they learn how to do their job,” Mayor Charlie Powell said at the work session.
Napier brought a model proposed by the Casper Police Department that he thinks could be implemented citywide to address the problem.
The department has struggled with recruitment and retention, Casper Police Chief Keith McPheeters said, and it’s something he noticed right away when he joined the department a year and a half ago.
Within five years of being part of the department, officers’ wages would stagnate, he said.
“That creates a certain degree of angst” among officers who are in the department for 15-20 years, he said.
He hopes the new model will both entice prospective employees and keep those who have been part of the department for some time.
The proposal creates several new positions in the department with varied wage bands attached. Officers would move through the ranks by earning achievement points given for serving in particular assignments and completing particular duties.
“You don’t get it by time,” McPheeters said. “To get this position you have to do more than the minimum.”
The model also promotes career development, he said, in that officers will be incentivized to take on additional responsibility.
Napier said he wants to give employees in all city departments similar opportunities.
“I want to be sure the folks we have invested in in all corners of the organization stick around,” Napier said.
The police department model adopts incentives based on value-added services, so employees would have to meet certain additional requirements to earn the increased wage.
“It’s a real nice give and take,” he said.
Thirty-two positions within the city already allow for this type of promotion, Napier said.
Napier estimates implementing the change for the police department will cost roughly $112,000, according to a memo he wrote May 9 to the Council. Napier said because the police department is one of the more expensive entities the city funds, he doesn’t anticipate the costs being quite so high for the city’s other departments.
Before decisions about the new model are made, Napier recommended the city conduct a classification and compensation study, which would entail analyzing the city’s current pay scale and band structure and identifying which positions should be adjusted based on the proposed new model. He said the study could answer a lot of questions that would be otherwise unanswerable.
The analysis would not result in any wage reductions for city employees, he said.
The study is estimated to cost $50,000, and pending Council approval Napier predicts they could begin this fall. The city would contract with an outside entity to conduct that study, he said.
Napier acknowledged that a classification and compensation study could be controversial.
This is not the first time Casper has tried to address retention problems. In 2017, after a wage freeze brought on by an energy bust, the city agreed to give employees bonuses and cost-of-living raises in hopes of keeping employees who were frustrated by the freeze.
As the energy industry picks up again, the city faces a different kind of retention dilemma, Napier said. He said the energy sector can offer higher wages than the city, so Casper, and Wyoming cities generally, need to be able to offer opportunities employees can’t get from energy jobs — stable advancement opportunities among them.
“We have to keep trying to stay competitive; that’s what this is really about,” he said.
The Council was generally positive toward the idea of implementing a system to better city employees’ abilities to earn raises, but some members did have hesitations.
Council member Steve Freel said he wanted more information about how the change would look for each department.
“I would prefer to have a discussion about each of (the departments) before I give the thumbs up,” he said, adding that he supports the police department plan. “But the rest of the organization, you have nothing in front of us to tell us how that’s going to work.”
Council member Krystyn Lutz also had some concern. She warned against rolling out the new compensation plan department by department.
“It will be perceived as favoritism of which ones are getting it faster,” she said.
No official plans to adopt the proposed model have been approved, and the city is still working out how the implementation would look if the Council did vote to approve the plan.