CEDAR CITY —In a showing of support, multiple Cedar City residents and contractors attended Wednesday night’s City Council meeting to ask community administration and leaders to do whatever they could to retain the services of Chief Building and Zoning Administrator Larry Palmer.
Palmer was offered a position in another community at a much higher rate of pay, City Manager Rick Holman said, one with which Cedar City just cannot compete.
One after another, supporters took to the podium, hailing the chief building officer’s value in the community and pleading with city officials to make him a counteroffer.
Iron County Homebuilders Association Executive Officer Zurl Thornock was the first to speak on the city employee’s behalf.
The possibility of losing Palmer raised serious concerns for board members with the association, Thornock said, reading aloud a letter composed by the board.
“Our members consider Larry a valuable resource to the local building industry,” he said, “and feel his experienced building expertise, knowledge and relationship skills will be very difficult to replace.”
His emphatic review of the irreplaceable nature of a man who has been with the city for 23 years was repeatedly backed up by additional commenters who found their way to the front of the room.
The “institutional knowledge” that 23 years of experience renders will not be lost with Palmer as he leaves, City Manager Rick Holman said.
“We have other employees who have been here that long,” he said, “and the institutional knowledge is important.”
City administration doesn’t want any of the employees to leave, Mayor Maile Wilson said. Still, there is a tremendous amount of respect and understanding for anyone who is working to better their position financially and provide for their family, she said.
“Obviously, we don’t want anyone to leave,” Wilson said. “But we also know that they, and each individual person, have to take into account their own financial need and what makes sense for their family; so we also respect their decisions to do what they see as being in their best interest.”
However, money does play a role in these difficult decisions, Wilson said.
“At the end of the day,” Wilson said, “we have to think about the budget and how to best balance it.”
The city values every employee, Holman said, explaining that the difficulty of the situation is that there is no way for Cedar City to compete with the offer Palmer has received without slighting other employees who are currently underpaid.
Cedar City recently paid experts to come in and do a compensation study on city employees to assess if their pay rates are competitive in the market. City officials learned there are currently quite a few underpaid employees.
“We need to be sensitive to those situations,” Holman said, “and what we can do to address those.”
Balancing the budget, while adjusting pay rates to meet the standard compensation shown in the study, will take at least the next couple of years, he said, but it is a priority for city administrators.
During the lapse in the Cedar City economy, Human Resources and Risk Management Natasha Hirschi said, there were no pay raises given to city employees. Employees began to approach the city in 2014 with information showing that other comparable cities were paying their employees more for the same jobs, she said.
Based on the study conducted by Personnel Systems & Services out of Salt Lake City, Hirschi said, there are about 60 city employees whose compensation came back below what the study showed they needed to be.
The methodology is a “fairly lengthy comprehensive process,” Personnel Systems & Services owner Mike Swallow said.
“We learned that there were a number of positions that could be brought more in line with the market,” Swallow said. “And I think that the strategy the city is pursuing is one to cycle into that — they weren’t able to bite the whole chunk at once.”
The finance director, mayor and city manager have a heavy task in front of them, Hirschi said, as they work through the next year’s budget and attempt to raise some of the salaries on the list.
Currently, Palmer earns $60,110 yearly in his position with the city, Hirschi said.
The city soliciting Palmer away from Cedar City and the exact dollar amount they have offered is unknown by St. George News at this time. Multiple attempts to contact Palmer have been unsuccessful.
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