Pataskala City Council on Jan. 18 continued to debate whether four city employees are being underpaid and, if so, when and how their pay should be brought into alignment with comparable cities.

Pataskala City Council on Jan. 18 continued to debate whether four city employees are being underpaid and, if so, when and how their pay should be brought into alignment with comparable cities.

The affected positions are the city's public-services director, whose base pay is $54,690; the council clerk, $27,400; the mayor's court clerk, $33,260; and the police clerk, $25,130. Each is being recommended for raises of 4 percent to 11 percent this year, pending their employment anniversary dates.

Council member Bernie Brush said those employees substantially were underpaid and that council should commit now to addressing the full amount of the disparity, rather than making the decision later during subsequent budget years.

"I just think it's important that since for other employees we stepped up to a minimum, but these employees we're spreading over a three-year period," Brush said. "I think the revised pay matrix should be adopted to say this is our intent for 2012 and 2013 since we are spreading it out over three years instead of doing it right away."

Other council members said they agree with the intent but were not willing to make a decision without knowing other effects on the city budget, including state subsidy of local government, the state of the economy and whether the job functions were in fact the same as in comparable cities.

"We don't know what's going to happen with the state budget or anything else that might prohibit (the raises) from going forward," council member Merissa McKinstry said.

Council member Dan Hayes said he would like to see a more detailed job-comparison study to ensure that raises were being awarded based on job function rather than title.

"I don't have any trouble telling those employees that we intend to give them equitable pay, but I think there are still a lot of unanswered questions that were raised in the process relating to whether or not we are comparing job titles and job responsibilities," Hayes said. "Those were never addressed. Maybe I'm the only one concerned about it, but while I will happily vote yes for something that indicates we're looking toward making their pay more equitable, I'm not sure just saying this is what the director of public services in city A makes means that is what the director of public services makes in city B. That's what we're doing. We're looking at this pay matrix, and we're going to get you to the minimum because that's what other cities are paying."

Brush said it was important to commit to the additional years 2012 and 2013 as a matter of fairness to those employees whose salaries were considered too low.

"What I think, and the rest of council thinks, is that several employees were being paid at a substantially lower rate as compared to anyone else," Brush said. "The comparison you had was 2008 rates. This is 2011. It's three years later. We've been behind the 8-ball, and I just think it's a disservice. I want to give some confidence to employees. I'm at least willing to go to bat for these people."

Hayes said the review he proposes might reveal that pay should be even higher than is currently proposed.

"What I'm suggesting may turn out to mean our utilities director should turn out to make more than what neighboring communities pay," Hayes said. "But why are we just saying this is what a utilities director makes? Let's figure out what these people do and what they get paid for doing, whether there are comparisons to private industry. I just don't get the idea of saying, in 2013 we're working to get to this number when the only evidence we have of this number is a title. That's troublesome."

Council adopted a motion that directed the law director and city administrator to work together to gather necessary data for a full comparison of wages but not to adopt the 2012 and 2013 pay matrix.

"We don't know if the jobs are the same," Hayes said. "In my brief experience in county government, the jobs are not the same. What we call a staff attorney in Licking County is a lot more involved than what a staff attorney is in Franklin County, and vice versa on other positions, where the pay is different by tens of thousands of dollars, but when you look at the job responsibilities, that (difference) is warranted."