Clintonville losing utility staff
By Erik Buchinger
The Clintonville Utility Board discussed the wages for its electric staff during its monthly meeting on June 12.
“I would like us to take a look at what our current rates are for our field staff for electric, specifically,” Chairman Mark Doornink said. “I think we’re behind, and last time we looked through this, we raised our rates to be at least competitive. The information that [Electric Manager Brian Ellickson] shared with me showed that we were now below competitive and somewhat significantly.”
Doornink said being able to find a new replacement when an employee departs can be an expensive process.
“The cost of replacement can be quite high,” Doornink said. “Given the information from Brian about our field staff, they’re doing a great job, they work well together and have really improved. They’re getting things done around town and even in the country where we have service from Clintonville Utilities.”
Alderman Jim Supanich said there are other options for employees around the area, which makes it difficult to retain linemen.
“The situation, particularly on linemen, is difficult because they could simply go to New London or Shawano and make more money than we’re paying,” Supanich said. “We really need to have a program where we really try to stay relatively current because one of the problems we’re running into now is that people are beginning to think that the only way they can get a raise is when it looks like they’re all going to get ready to quit, and that doesn’t bode well for getting replacements.
“I think the apprentice program is going to work well, but all the other field staff are not overly paid. It’s difficult because there are a lot of places you can go now to get a reasonable salary, so we’ve got to stay competitive with the market if we want to continue to have a reliable electrical system.”
Clintonville City Administrator Sharon Eveland said the city is looking to hire somebody to conduct a compensation study by January.
“Brian and I talked about this a few weeks ago, and I cannot support a pay increase in the middle of the year from my perspective especially when we’re getting ready to do the compensation study,” Eveland said.
According to Eveland, a raise in the middle of the year could upset other departments.
“I have reservations for any department doing something like this mid-year,” Eveland said. “From my perspective, pay raises you address during the budget cycle. Not taking anything away from the electrical group because they do a great job, but so does everybody else in the city. I think it can send a bad message to the rest of the employees – not that you guys think this way – but it can give off the impression that certain departments are valued more than others.”
Eveland said staying competitive on compensation with other communities can be difficult.
“I realize we do have to stay competitive to an extent, but there are certain communities – larger communities – that have more funds,” Eveland said. “We’re never going to stay competitive with them. We can’t. We cannot sustain that. I think part of what we have to do is work toward more of a holistic approach to our employees, not just focusing on our pay.”
Supanich responded by discussing a situation a few years ago when the city struggled to hire new linemen.
“I understand what you’re saying in that regard, but keep in mind we’ve been losing linemen to New London and Shawano,” Supanich said. “About three or four years ago, our rates got so low, we couldn’t get a lineman. We lost two, and we didn’t have the capability of fixing anything because you have to have a lineman or an apprentice or two linemen. It’s got to be two people, not one.
“Now if we feel comfortable that we can get through the rest of this year and not lose a lineman and wait for the study, that’s fine, but we’re getting a reputation in the marketplace that we only give raises if we can’t get people, especially on the lineman.”
Doornink said he disagrees with Eveland’s opinion to not increase pay in the middle of the year.
“I think it should not wait till the end of the year,” Doornink said. “We disagree on this, and that’s OK, because we bring ourselves closer to being aligned with where we know we need to be.”
Supanich said being able to replace employees would be easier with an increase in pay.
“I’m not advocating that we keep these guys at the top end of the pay raise so they never think about looking elsewhere,” Supanich said. “I’m talking about increasing the pay structure so that if they leave, we can find another man. That’s been a problem the last 10 years.”
Eveland said it is possible that most departments are deemed to be underpaid in the study, and giving utility workers a raise could cause other employees to leave in other departments.
“It is very possible and very likely the compensation study will say that utilities are underpaid, but it’s probably going to say most of the departments are underpaid,” Eveland said. “The city will have to make a decision – are they going to fund the increase? If you fund an increase for utilities now but don’t fund the rest of the employees after the compensation study comes out, you may lose employees because of that.”
The next utility board meeting will be held at 4:30 p.m. Monday, July 10, at Clintonville City Hall.