Pelham considering repeal of Mercer pay plan

Published 8:43 pm Monday, November 19, 2012

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

The Pelham City Council will decide during an upcoming meeting if it will repeal a city employee pay scale put into place by Pelham’s previous council in 2011.

The announcement came during a Nov. 19 pre-meeting work session, during which the council voted unanimously to remove the item from the regular meeting agenda and discuss the matter at a future meeting.

Pelham’s council narrowly approved the Mercer pay scale during a special-called meeting in October 2011, putting into place an 18-grade, 18-step pay scale for city employees.

Of Pelham’s current council members, only Karyl Rice was serving on the council when the Mercer pay scale was passed. Rice voted against the Mercer plan.

During the Nov. 19 work session, Pelham Mayor Gary Waters, who took office in early November, said the Mercer pay scale is “illegal” under the city’s civil service law because “you can’t have people in the same class at two different (pay) rates.”

Waters said the Mercer pay scale served as the basis for a lawsuit brought against the city in early 2012 by several Pelham employees and members of the Pelham Personnel Board, and said the repeal of the Mercer pay scale could help satisfy an offer to settle the lawsuit.

If the Mercer pay scale is repealed, Waters said about 31 percent of the city’s workforce will see a reduction in pay. Waters also said the council could vote to repeal the Mercer pay scale effective Jan. 1, 2013, which would leave the city’s employees at their current pay level through the holiday season.

“But this is only a temporary affair. Whether or not the Mercer scale is rescinded or not, we’ve got to restructure our pay plan,” Waters said.

Waters encouraged the council members to work with members of the Personnel Board and other city officials to form a committee aimed at assessing and restructuring the city’s pay scale. Waters said the council could vote on the new pay scale in as few as eight weeks after the committee is seated.

Rice and Councilman Maurice Mercer, who has no relation to Mercer pay scale, said they were not comfortable voting on the matter during the Nov. 19 meeting, and requested more time to review the possible repeal.

“I don’t like the idea of not having something in place to (immediately) replace this,” Rice said.

The matter likely will be included on the council’s Dec. 3 agenda, Waters said.

In other business, the council:

-Voted unanimously to repeal the city’s vehicle policy, which was passed in 2010. The policy required all city vehicles to stay in city limits unless the trip was approved by a city official or department head.

“This is an administrative issue best left to the mayor,” Councilman Ron Scott said, noting the city could see savings by allowing Waters to determine vehicle usage guidelines.

-Voted to amend the city employees’ flexible benefits plan to allow city employees to spend no more than $2,500 on their flexible benefits plans. The limit was mandated by recently passed legislation, Council President Rick Hayes said.

-Voted to reimburse Pelham resident Beverly Rector $6,057.86 for 14 years worth of overcharges on her water bill. Hayes said the Water Department noticed the error recently while changing to a new software system.

“We are very sorry about that error, and are very glad we caught it,” Hayes said.