City officials say wages are competitive

January 16, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

Editor's Note: The salaries used for the City of Hagerstown stories are from the 2003-04 fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2003, through June 30, 2004. These salaries are the latest complete year. The salary series will conclude next Sunday with a look at salaries for Washington County government employees.

HAGERSTOWN - People who fix broken water mains, issue parking tickets, fight crime, balance budgets and fill all sorts of other job descriptions work for the City of Hagerstown.

In return, the 450 or so employees - including about 300 union members - are paid wages and receive health insurance benefits. A few are allowed to take cars home and others have to. Their wages and benefits are paid by taxpayer money, as well as bills and fees from the city departments.

All told, the city spent $19.6 million on things such as wages, vacation and sick leave in the fiscal year that ended last June, plus another $7.9 million on fringe benefits, which include retirement, Social Security, disability payments and health insurance, according to information provided by city officials this week.


Together, wages and benefits last year made up about one-third of the city's total budget, which also has to pay for construction items such as road repaving and perform services such as inspect buildings for safety.

City officials describe their wage and benefit system as one that is competitive, and in some ways better than what is available elsewhere, but they also say that one looming issue - rising health-care costs - might be a train wreck waiting to happen.

Top earner

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman, the city's top-paid official, is the chief administrative officer of the city and is responsible for compiling the annual budget. He answers only to the mayor and city council.

Last year, Zimmerman made $96,042 in base pay. Under his current contract, he received an additional contribution of about $5,762 toward his retirement plan, and another $2,000 or so for his disability insurance policy, city officials said this week.

Zimmerman's contract, which expires in 2006, says he receives four weeks of vacation each year, 15 days of sick leave and two personal days. He has the option of using a city vehicle or receiving a $200-per-month allowance.

City Finance Director Alfred Martin said Zimmerman has opted to take the allowance, which also is less expensive for the city due to vehicle insurance and upkeep costs.

While Zimmerman does not receive any bonuses or performance incentives, he receives an annual cost-of-living increase at the same rate as other nonunion city employees, Martin said.

Zimmerman also may participate in the once-annual sick leave sell-back program.

The program is slightly different between union and nonunion workers, but nonunion employees with fewer than 800 accrued sick-leave hours may sell back one week's worth of sick days, earning the equivalent of half of that employee's salary for the week's worth of sold sick leave.

Workers with 800 hours or more may sell back two weeks. The sell-back program paid out a total of $167,001 in the fiscal year ending last June.

Around the departments

Aside from Zimmerman, none of the major department chiefs - including police, fire, water and sewer, electric and engineering - are contractual employees, although they still rank among the city's best-paid employees.

The Herald-Mail requested the list of employees who earned more than $60,000 in base wages, as well as the top 10 overtime wage earners in the fiscal year ending last June.

There were 21 employees - department chiefs and other managers - who earned more than $60,000. But including overtime wages, several earned more than their supervisors, and some moved into the $60,000 range.

Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker and Martin were the next highest paid employees based on wages, each receiving $80,291 in the 2004 fiscal year.

The highest paid female is City Police Lt. Margaret Kline, who received $61,289 in base wages. In the 2004 fiscal year, she was the highest paid city police lieutenant, which is two ranks below chief.

Several employees also are required to take city vehicles home, including Hawbaker, Deputy Fire Chief Ronald Horn, Fire Marshal Tom Brown, and Mike Weller, the fire department's public educator. The assistant fire marshals share a vehicle.

Police Chief Arthur Smith and forensic scientist Jeff Kercheval also are assigned vehicles. Any sworn officer also may take home a police cruiser if he or she lives within city limits, although the cars are an older line of vehicles and limited in number.

Another 23 nonpublic safety employees are assigned take-home cars, but it is treated as a benefit if that employee is not the primary on-call employee. City employees who use their own vehicles may be reimbursed 36 cents per mile.

Stresses on the system

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