City raises, incentive plan get approval

By Helena Rodriguez: PNT Staff Writer

Joe Ramirez and his employees at the city water department are often called out at all hours of the night to take care of emergency situations. Those circumstances sometimes make it hard to retain employees.

Ramirez, the utility supervisor for the City of Portales, expects a new incentive pay plan which takes effect in January to help alleviate this problem. “I expect to see an increase in morale among my employees, simply because we’re the water department and we are out at all hours of the night. We take care of all emergency situations and I’ve got some good employees that have stuck with me.”

Portales City Manager Debi Lee also expects to see an overall lower turnover rate for the city.

“We’re struggling with retaining CDL (commercial drivers license) and solid waste workers. Those are the guys who are out at 2 in the morning picking up garbage. They need to be rewarded for their hard work. That’s who we are targeting with this incentive plan, those people out there in the field,” Lee said.

The Portales City Council approved the incentive pay plan, along with a three percent cost of living raise for all city employees during its Dec. 19 meeting. The cost of living raise, which has been awarded to employees for the second year in a row, along with the incentive pay plan, will take effect on the city’s last pay period in January.

“This will cost us, but it will be very much worth it,” Lee added. “My thinking is that if we can pay our employees well, we will keep them instead of having to retrain and retrain. That is more expensive than taking care of people who are loyal and work hard for us.”

According to Lee, the incentive program alone will cost the city more than $23,000 over the next six months or about $50,000 a year. She estimates that the incentive plan, along with the three percent raises, will cost the city about $90,000 over the next six months.

With the city’s new incentive plan, employees will be paid anywhere from an extra $15 to $75 dollars a month anytime they receive new training, education or certifications which are directly related to their jobs. For example, Lee said the city’s information technician (IT) guy has passed several Microsoft system’s administrator certification trainings.
While a similar program has been in place for city firefighters, police officers and even bilingual speakers, City Clerk Joann Martinez-Terry said that this new plan will standardize the incentive pay for all city employees during a time in which it is much needed.

“We have some employees who are very excited because they have either met the qualifications or are in the process and it will be a great advantage to them,” said Martinez-Terry who has worked for the city for 25 years. “One of the problems we are having is that there is competition for certain employees and so we are having trouble keeping our good ones.”

Martinez-Terry added, “A lot of young people don’t look at retirement and other benefits as a benefit. They tend to see immediate needs so an incentive plan is something they can see and take advantage of immediately.”

Lee said the new incentive plan is all about the quality of services delivered to the public. “We encourage people to be more qualified, more educated and better trained so that our delivery of services is improved. Many of them do a good job now, but this is a way to reward them.”