(Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

A consulting firm told Petersburg’s assembly this week that salaries for Petersburg borough employees and department heads are lagging behind their counterparts in other Alaska municipalities, especially at the top end of salary ranges. The borough comissioned the study of salary and benefits in preparation for the next round of labor negotiations.

The company Public Sector Personnel Consultants surveyed salary ranges and benefits for employees and supervisors in numerous borough departments. That firm’s Matt Weatherly presented some preliminary findings to the assembly in a work session May 12th.

“We do this probably maybe 40 or 50 times throughout the United States,” Weatherly said. “And I would say it’s always a mix of doing this type of work for a city or county in the middle of a major metropolitan area and then, we’ve got plenty of clients, we’ve done quite a bit of work in Alaska. We’ve got a lot of clients in Wyoming, Montana, you know Washington state where geography starts to be part of a very interesting discussion.”

The consultants looked at salaries and benefits for borough jobs and how they compare to similar positions in over a dozen other communities. Those ranged from smaller towns like Wrangell, Valdez and Cordova, to larger ones like Ketchikan, Juneau and Kodiak. The consultant also included comparisons to state and federal jobs that are similar. Salaries were compared for starting level, mid-range and maximum salaries on a range.

The consultants found that Petersburg’s pay ranges are five percent or more below market value for nearly all of the jobs looked at in terms of the top end of the salary ranges.

“Are we falling behind for those either journey-level or senior individuals where they have some tenure with us but we’re not quite getting our long-tenured experienced individuals up to market?” Weatherly wondered.

Petersburg borough jobs are a little more competitive for starting salaries at some of those jobs. Paid time off and health insurance benefits are on par with market averages.

Weatherly said he looked at both private and public sector jobs that were similar to those in the Petersburg borough.

“The most interesting jobs certainly that we come across in an agency like yours probably are the harbor,” he said. “We struggle to get data certainly at like the assisted living facility, some of those are very hard to get, you know and then bring the data in and kind of have the now what conversation.”

The pay lag was also noted in many department head positions.

Assembly member Chelsea Tremblay asked about whether the borough is seeing work force turnover because of low pay.

Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht responded.

“What we’ve seen over probably the last 3-4 years is problems in the police department, problems in Mountain View Manor, problems with maintenance and trade positions, so like people with CDLs (commercial driver’s licenses),” Giesbrecht said. “That seems to be where we’re seeing the most turnover, parks and rec to a certain extent but how much of that was a little bit of the turmoil versus just the nature of who we hired up there.”

The consultant is also going to come up with options for the borough to bring salaries more in-line with market levels over time.

Negotiations were scheduled to begin in April with workers represented by the Petersburg Municipal Employees Association. That’s most borough employees except for supervisors and electrical workers. The most recent PMEA bargaining agreement expires at the end of June. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant a postponement of those contract talks, possibly until the fall.

“I haven’t really seen too much of the data or anything else that goes into it but the executive summary kind of speaks for itself and relays the message that we’ve been putting out for the last decade or so,” said Justin Haley, PMEA president.

The borough has had long contract disputes with that union several times in the last decade and the union even filed a complaint with the state over the borough’s bargaining in 2018. Haley doesn’t know how much the compensation study will impact negotiations when they do occur.

“I’m pretty confident that we’re going to have a pretty decent negotiation,” he said. “They’ve got a good team, we’ve got a good team and I think we got a lot of common ground and goals that we’re going to work forward with and together on. I’m pretty confident going into this negotiations it’s going to be a good process.”

This year the borough’s negotiating team wants the assembly to approve an extension of the existing contract to the end of the year. It’s also recommending a two percent increase to base wages in July. Both the borough and the union agree that wage increases over the last three decades have not kept up with the increase of the cost of living over that time.

The borough paid 22,500 dollars for the compensation study.

The assembly scheduled to consider those recommendations for the existing contract extension and wage increase on Monday.