BREC pay: cutting edge or bleeding edge?

Employees of the parish’s much-lauded parks system aren’t getting paid what their peers make, according to a report an outside consultant conducted for the East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission.

BREC employees, on average, are paid 12 percent to 13 percent below competitive market rates, depending on their job classification, the Waters Consulting Group, of Dallas, says in its analysis.

After holding recent workshops to learn about the report’s findings, BREC commissioners are expected to review plans to begin the process of addressing the pay disparity in the coming weeks.

“We have to catch up because we are losing good quality employees,” BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said. “We want to make sure we can attract the best and the brightest in the country and around the community so that we can give people the service they deserve and want. It’s important.”

McKnight said the budget BREC recently adopted includes funding to start the first phase of addressing the pay gap, which would only affect the employees who are furthest from the competitive market pay rate. The details are still being worked out, but the adjustments are expected to affect 122 employees and add more than $318,000 to the system’s annual payroll — about 2 percent of the system’s salary budget.

McKnight said the adjustments will be directly tied to how far employees are from the competitive salary rate identified in the report.

“Some people might get $300, some people might get $3,000 — it depends on where you fall on the range,” she said.

Linda Cobb, of Waters Consulting Group, said the review looked at comparable jobs in areas similar to Baton Rouge to see how competitive BREC’s pay is.

BREC workers who fall into the overtime-exempt category, including managers and supervisors, are paid an average 12.8 percent below market rates, according to the report.

“It has had an impact not giving pay increases over the past several years,” Cobb said.

Non-exempt employees, which include custodians, tree trimmers, painters and other workers who are eligible for overtime pay, make about 13 percent less than the market rate. And the system’s executives, including McKnight and department directors, are paid an average 12.3 percent below the market rate.

“These are averages, so you do have some positions that are above market or at market, but overall the average is below the market,” Cobb said.

BREC workers haven’t received raises in at least four years.

“We’ve fallen so far behind,” McKnight said. “We want to be on the cutting edge, not the bleeding edge.”

McKnight said the goal, ultimately, is to establish a pay system tied to employee performance, so that there are incentives for better workers.

She said once the larger imbalances are addressed, BREC will move to make more adjustments.

An overhaul immediately addressing all pay disparities would cost the system $9 million annually, Cobb said.