Ligonier will boost employee pay

Article by Steve Garbacz of KPC Media

LIGONIER — Unemployment is way too low to be paying $12 per hour.

So Ligonier will be boosting pay for its employees to stay competitive and retain its workforce.

Finding qualified workers is becoming an increasingly tough task with the county at less than 3 percent unemployment, Mayor Patty Fisel explained. The city normally starts new workers out at $12 per hour, but recently has been making exceptions to bring new, skilled workers on at wages around $15.

Although that’s been necessary to attract and hire new people, it’s left the city in a situation where people hired on in the past are now suffering a sizable pay gap.

Fisel wants to fix that and get everyone on the same level.

“It’s not really fair to our current employees to not be able to bring them up to at least a better wage. We have figured out a matrix to use and to see how we’d be able to do that,” Fisel said.

The increases would be for civil employees only — police and fire departments will be handled separately. Fisel said the increases would all fall within the established wage rates per the city’s salary ordinance, so the changes could be made without having to adjust that annual pay schedule.

Ligonier employees also do earn longevity pay, so anyone who has put in at least five years gets $100 per year of service, up to a maximum of $3,000.

The change will affect 10 city employees, mostly in the water and sewer departments, and cost the city about $30,000 extra per year, Clerk-Treasurer Barb Hawn calculated. The city will be able to absorb the extra cost within the current budget.

“I feel like that we did it as fairly as we can do it. All of the increases and everyone would be increased some to bring them up,” Fisel said.

Council member Ken Schuman asked if Fisel had brought this before the mayors roundtable group in which she participates. The mayor said she had and that other cities were supportive of the plan to equalize pay, although Fisel noted Ligonier would be the first to make the move.

Ligonier tends to be the city that tries new ideas first, with other communities waiting to see how it goes, Fisel noted.

Council members backed the idea, recognizing the struggle to find qualified, dedicated and loyal employees in the current workforce.

“We are dealing with an incredibly low unemployment rate in this county. That is going to be an issue,” Schuman said. “You’ve got people you want to keep and pay fairly and you’ve got to belly up to the bar to get new people. We want long-term employees and I believe we have that.”

The council approved the pay increases unanimously.

Public Safety Director Brian Shearer said he will be presenting a plan for pay increases for the public safety department at the council’s July 9 meeting. He told the council he expects those pay hikes will be covered by the city’s share of the county public safety income tax that’s been collected for about two years now.