TRAVERSE CITY — The results of a wage study shows that pay lags by up to about 16 percent for Grand Traverse County employees when compared with counties and organizations deemed competitors in the job market.

Results also show that about half of 61 county positions benchmarked in the study solicited by county officials were below that targeted market.

The study, done by Management Advisory Group, compares wages of workers employed by Grand Traverse County to those in seven other counties, all of which are larger.

The results were presented at Wednesday’s county board meeting by Carolyn Long, senior executive vice president with MAG, which is being paid $38,500 to do the study.

According to MAG, organizations considered competitive in a market review are those that compete with the county for employees, those that are geographically close or within commuting distance, are structured similarly to the county, and are attractive to highly valued employees.

The seven counties included Bay County, located about halfway up the state. The other six counties — Berrien, Jackson, Lenawee, Livingston, Oakland and Washtenaw — are all located on or near the southern edge of Michigan.

Using 2020 census data, populations in the seven counties ranged from 99,423 in Lenawee County to 1,274,395 in Oakland County. Grand Traverse has a population of 95,238.

The study also included wages at Northwestern Michigan College, the City of Traverse City and Traverse City Area Public Schools, as well as data from the private sector, the report said.

The report shows how the county stacked up against average salaries for several positions of those organizations surveyed.

For example, the average surveyed salary of an office specialist clerk has a maximum pay of $44,332, while the Grand Traverse post tops out at $38,000.

Surveyed juvenile probation officers are paid an average maximum of $65,335, while in GTC they top out at $55,162. A surveyed director of environmental health is paid a max salary of $111,862, while in GTC the position tops out at $76,266.

Some county positions pay more and the recommendation by MAG is not to change those. A local lead sewer/water operator has a salary nearly 10 percent higher than the average, a social worker about 8 percent higher, and a grounds coordinator about 7 percent higher.

The study also addresses salary compression, which can take place when wages for lower earners do not keep up with new hires as they are offered better starting wages.

Salary compression can lead to low morale in long-term employees, poor performance and workers looking for jobs elsewhere, the report said.

Long said the next step in the process is the integration of wage and compensation recommendations presented by MAG with the budget process “so that we have a fair and equitable transition that is affordable and sustainable.”

County Administrator Nate Alger said Wednesday’s report was the first presentation of the data to the county board. Alger and others are set to meet with county labor counsel Friday to go over the report, he said.

“We need to talk about proposals, we need to talk about options and that fair and equitable piece that Carolyn (Long) was talking about,” Alger said. “That’s key in our mind as we go forward with implementation of a new pay proposal.”

The board will meet in a closed session during the Dec. 15 regular meeting with attorneys and administrators, who will have a recommendation for the board to approve, Alger said.

Commissioner Darryl Nelson said the 123-page report is a lot to digest.

“I think I speak for the board that we’re going to dig into this, we’re going to do the work,” Nelson said. “We didn’t go through all this just to put it in the background.”

Commissioner Brad Jewett agreed.

“I just wanted to put it out there to the employees and the rest of the staff that we’re not going to just take this information and toss it in the trash can like it has been before when it sat on the back shelf,” Jewett said. “I look forward to actually using the information in the study to make progress in the county.”

A wage study was last done in the county in 2008.

MAG is working with a compensation committee made up of Donna Kinsey, director of human resources; Lana Payne, director of the county Commission on Aging; Dean Bott, finance director; and Deputy Administrator Chris Forsyth.

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