City of Conway employees began 2013 with a new pay-scale system.
The change, which the Conway City Council approved in December, does “not really” have to do with a pay scale-related lawsuit against the city, according to Mayor Tab Townsell.
The city eliminated its previous seven-step pay raise model in favor of a one-step pay raise system for most city employees and a two-step system for the fire and police departments. The city had used the seven-step pay scale since 2002.
Instead of emphasizing pay raises or incentive pay, the city’s new model prioritizes cost-of-living adjustments and new hires, as it can afford them, Townsell said. The city hadn’t given city employees pay raises in three years.
For 2013, city employees who were being paid less than the market rate for their jobs — as compared with the pay rates of peer cities in Arkansas — received pay increases bringing them up to market rate. Not all city employees received raises.
Among the allegations of the class-action lawsuit against the city is that Conway inaccurately described steady employee pay raises while recruiting new fire and police officers. The suit was filed Sept. 18 in Faulkner County Circuit Court.
Russell Wood of Russellville is the attorney representing Conway police Officer Richard Shumate, Fire Department Capt. Damon Reed and possibly hundreds of other past and present Conway employees in the lawsuit. The city’s recent pay scale changes will not stop Wood’s pursuit of back pay for the employees he represents, he said.
“We’re pleased that, as a result of the lawsuit, the city decided to do the proper thing and put these people in the proper pay grade,” Wood said.
Conway made the changes “to limit their damages,” he said. If Wood’s clients win the suit, the city could have to pay up to seven years’ of back pay, plus interest, he said. Wood is currently waiting to receive documents from the city before the case can proceed.
“We only give cost-of-living adjustments or incentive pay if the money’s available and the City Council approves it, because sometimes the money is not available,” Townsell said. “What we’re doing is what we meant to do all along, but we didn’t have the money. … To make it more sustainable, we had to eliminate the cost of living and the costly step raises so we could keep our employees paid at market.”