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[whitespace] Council ups employee pay after survey reveals loss

Fourteen city workers leave in last six months

Saratoga--On Feb. 7, the Saratoga City Council increased the salary ranges for all city employees, in the hopes of preventing any more people from leaving their city jobs.

In the last six months, the city lost 14 regular employees--25 percent of its workforce--according to Mary Jo Walker, the city's administrative services director. Due to the number of resignations--one of which was Community Development Director James Walgren--as well as the fact that the city had trouble filling vacant positions, the council looked into the matter.

The city authorized a survey in October and the results indicate that the average monthly salary in the city of Saratoga--$4,897--is the lowest of the eight neighboring cities studied. The survey shows that only five of the 40 positions in Saratoga receive at or above the survey average.

The immediate cost to the city of raising some salaries will be about $4,000 per month, plus benefits. The survey studied all positions, except the city manager who negotiates his own salary with the city council directly and is typically not included in salary surveys.

"If the city wants to get quality people it has got to be able to offer a competitive salary," said Councilman Nick Streit. "And this salary survey pointed out we have to increase [salaries]."

Streit said that under the previous ranges, the city had a tough time competing with other cities to fill vacancies.

"We're fighting against every other city in the Bay Area for good, quality people and this allows us now the opportunity to compete with them on an equal basis," he said.

Saratoga hasn't kept pace with neighboring cities that are Saratoga's biggest competitors for recruiting employees, according to Walker, who added that people who leave one city tend to look for jobs nearby.

"If you lose an employee who lives in San Jose, they're not going to drive to Fairfield, they're going to try to get a job around here," Walker said.

When the council raised the salary ranges for positions at its meeting Feb. 7, it necessitated raising salaries that fell below the new range for 12 employees, Walker said. The raises will be effective as of Feb. 3--the first day of the current pay period.

Aside from specific raises, the new salary ranges will allow for future growth for some employees, who hit their salary caps long ago, Anderson said.

The salary survey, completed by the firm Geoffrey L. Rothman and Associates, studied eight cities that are comparable to Saratoga in terms of population, proximity to Saratoga and size and form of government. The cities are Los Gatos, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Morgan Hill, San Carlos, Campbell, Cupertino and Newark.

The increase in salaries will amount to $11,357 for the remainder of this fiscal year, according to Walker. For the positions in the community development department, the city will use revenue from building fees to fund the increases.

"We're bringing in more than we spend right now," Walker said of this department.

In city departments that do not have development-related revenue sources, the city will use money from the general fund to fund the increases. According to Walker, sales tax revenue is much higher than expected so far this year and revenue from it will be used.

"It's not that big of an impact," Walker said. "We're not talking about that much money."

Today, the city is trying to fill five vacancies, and is using four contractors to fill the void. Aside from the community development director, the city lost a senior planner in that department, a coordinator in the recreation department and an office specialist, according to City Manager Dave Anderson. The fifth position the city is trying to fill is a new position--that of an economic development coordinator.

Anderson said the departure of Walgren was a catalyst in proceeding with the salary increases.

"This helps us put that position in a more competitive salary range," Anderson said of the community development director.

Walgren resigned on Dec. 13, saying that his new job as planning director for Los Altos was too desirable an opportunity to pass up at this point in his career. Walgren said his reason for leaving was to broaden his experience by working in a different community. He had been with the city of Saratoga for almost 12 years. Walgren did not cite salary issues as a reason for leaving.

The community development department, which has always had a director, one associate planner and two assistant planners, plus an office specialist, had a huge turnover last year. The two assistant planners took jobs elsewhere, due mainly to the fact that they could not afford housing near Saratoga and they were commuting long distances. The associate planner left earlier in the year when she decided not to return to work after she took maternity leave.

The city is still looking for an applicant to fill the associate planner position.
Kara Chalmers

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