Council: Pay raises needed to retain workers

Kelsey Leyva | Wellington Enterprise Village council members Sandy Denes, Helen Dronsfield, Guy Wells, Jeff Hyde, and Hans Schneider, along with mayor Barbra O’Keefe, discuss pending business at their June 15 meeting.

A fear of losing valuable employees has Wellington village council considering pay increases for electrical linemen and other workers.

Employees are leaving for high-paying jobs in Oberlin, at the Lorain-Medina Rural Electric Cooperative, and FirstEnergy, village manager Steve Pyles told council Monday.

A $2 per hour raise would help close the compensation gap for linemen compared to what Oberlin offers, he said. Oberlin workers can rise to the highest pay level faster and make about $4 more there.

Pyles also worries that village workers aren’t moving into leadership roles here once they gain experience.

“My concern is that we have about half of our workforce probably in the fourth quarter of their careers,” he said. “They’re five to 10 years out from retirement and half of our workforce is just starting. We’re going to reach a point in five to 10 years where you go, ‘OK, our cupboard’s bare.’”

Electric superintendent Dave Bealer said it takes about four to five years to be a valuable journeyman or lineman, but people can do line work after two or three years on the job.

As an example, he cited one worker who has had roughly $16,000 to $18,000 in training and safety equipment purchases over the past three years.

Councilman Hans Schneider agreed that wages needed to be reevaluated for all employees, not just linemen. He thinks everyone from clerks to police officers should have their pay reconsidered.

“We need to do something or we’re going to lose people and it sounds like it’s across the board,” Schneider said.

Police Lt. Jeff Shelton voiced concerns of losing officers.

“We’re a stepping stone and I’m holding my breath right now because a couple of our go-to guys are on a list right now to leave and we’re going to be in trouble,” he said.

Bealer shared the same concern and said if he loses just one of his three new employees he would not be able to help build a new electricity substation.

His workers could save the village a minimum of $300,000 if his department were to complete a portion of the $2.1 million project.

Water and sewer superintendent Mark Rosemark said the community needs to be made aware of the significance of the work public employees do.

“The immediacy of our police response or our fire response, our linemen, our public works department — I think it’s unmatched anywhere,” he said. “The quality of our service and the importance of our service I think needs to be conveyed more effectively to the people who pay because it’s never going to get cheaper to do the job.”

Council needs to evaluate where it is according to the budget and how much money it would need to make the wage increases, finance director Karen Shaw said.

Bealer noted that the budget wouldn’t be impacted by a wage change for three of four years because most of his workers won’t be eligible for a pay increase until then.

The ones who are eligible now wouldn’t see a change in pay until next year.

Council decided to table the discussion until July 6 to take time to crunch the numbers.

Kelsey Leyva can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @TWE_KelseyLeyva on Twitter.