The current City Commission has gone out of its way trying to keep city employees happy. It granted a pay raise that’s double what county and Frankfort Plant Board staffs received. Last year it held a feedback session in which city workers aired grievances about personnel policy changes adopted by the previous commission. This board recognizes its fortunes are intertwined with those of the people who carry out city government’s essential work.
However, commission members may have a hard time reinstating “longevity” pay, which once gave career employees 3 percent raises every three years in addition to any routine raises. Predecessors, facing budgetary constraints in 2009, voted to phase out the benefit. Eligible employees have continued to receive 1 percent longevity raises the past three years but those are scheduled to expire in June.
Workers want the salary supplement restored. A number of commission members agree it’s a good idea to reward employee loyalty and reduce turnover. However, they’re grappling with the same economic limitations that convinced their predecessors to phase out longevity pay in the first place.
Things have changed in the past three years. Lots of workers in both government and private enterprise would count their lucky stars if they could just get a 3 percent “cost-of-living” raise now – without any added incentives. The thought of handing out an extra 3 percent is pure fantasy in a recovering but still shaky economy.
Nevertheless, commission members have signaled they’d like to do something to show their appreciation to people who sign on with city government and stay. It might be 1 percent, rather than 3 percent, until conditions improve. One commissioner suggested it could take the form of anniversary pay, more paid days off or quarterly benefits. Another said the interval between the raises could be lengthened. Mayor Gippy Graham prefers a general cost-of-living pay increase for everyone.
Whatever they eventually agree on will have to fit into a balanced city budget. Workers who are unhappy with the reduction of benefits in Frankfort city government can always look elsewhere. Some may believe the grass is greener in larger cities such as Louisville or Lexington. Others, hearing stories of big money in corporate pursuits, might drop out of public service altogether.
All should remember that city government careers have perks other than longevity pay. One of the best is the generous retirement that government continues to offer even as business abandons traditional pensions for 401(k) savings accounts.
Taxpayers United of America, a group that calls for public workers to take more personal responsibility for retirement funding – as private employees do – highlighted contrasts in a report late last year. It listed 25 City of Frankfort officials who by Taxpayers United estimates were on track to become millionaires during retirement.
Personal pension data is confidential so the group based its projections on available pay records and assumed retirement after 30 years at age 52, with an additional life expectancy of 32 years and an annual cost-of-living adjustment of 2 percent a year. Individual totals ranged from $1.8 million at the bottom to $3.1 million at the top of the list.
Workers in lower pay brackets cannot expect pensions that big, but they, too, have guaranteed benefits. Longevity rewards live on even if longevity raises are a thing of the past.