The Mercer Group, Inc. a consulting firm out of Georgia, will visit the city of Oak Grove for the first time Aug. 2 to begin developing an updated compensation plan for the city.

The Mercer Group, Inc. operates nationwide. Their North Carolina office will be conducting the classification and compensation study for Oak Grove, according to the proposal they submitted to the city.

In the city's 2019-20 annual budget, which city council approved during a special meeting June 18, $15,000 was designated to funding the development of the city's new compensation plan. The money will come from the general fund and water fund, according to the budget.

The not-to-exceed total cost for Oak Grove's classification and compensation study by The Mercer Group, Inc. will be $8,450, according to the firm's proposal.

During the recent city council meeting July 2, council members made a motion to accept the proposal made by The Mercer Group, Inc.

Angela Comperry, city of Oak Grove city clerk, said because this contract is for less than $20,000, the city does not have to bid it out.

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The Mercer Group, Inc. is one of four firms who submitted proposals to the city, Comperry said. She said the compensation plan process began several months ago. Before beginning the process, she contacted the Kentucky League of Cities for some advice.

"(KLC) sent me a list of companies that had done work in Kentucky that they knew of that were reputable, so I sent emails to five of those companies asking them what they needed to do a bid proposal for us," Comperry said.

Chris Johnson, KLC municipal law attorney, advised the city not to spend more than $20,000 to have a compensation plan study done, Comperry said.

"Johnson told us we could get a compensation plan done for a lot less than that which would still be good quality," she said.

Four companies responded to Comperry's emails. Three firms' proposals exceeded $20,000.

Phillip Robertson, senior vice-president of The Mercer Group, Inc., will serve as the primary consultant and project manager of Oak Grove's classification and compensation study. Robertson has 40 years of experience in the public sector. He has performed and managed these studies for KLC and Housing Authority of Covington, Kentucky, among dozens of other cities across the United States of America, according to the proposal.

The compensation and classification study will take about three months to complete, according to The Mercer Group, Inc.'s proposal. Representatives from the firm will visit the city at least four times during the process.

Comperry said their No. 1 priority is going to be creating well-written, up-to-date job descriptions for each city employee. She said this will help the city when hiring new employees.

City of Oak Grove Mayor Theresa Jarvis said city's are encouraged to review their compensation plans at least every five years. Until this year, the city of Oak Grove's compensation plan had not been reviewed by city council for four years, Jarvis said.

The job descriptions included in the compensation plan have not been updated in 12 years, she said. Although the payment plan used to hire employees is the most up-to-date, the city is hiring employees based on job descriptions that were never passed in 2007, Jarvis said.

"These job descriptions are very outdated and these are the only ones we have," Jarvis said.

Comperry said the study will be comprehensive and require a lot of employee involvement.

"Our experience has shown that good classification and compensation studies are a combination of sound technical processes and an understanding of human nature," according to the firm's proposal. "Our approach is sensitive to this in several ways."

During the Aug. 2 meeting, firm representatives will meet with an Oak Grove committee including Jarvis and city council members.

"They are going to start out by coming here and meeting with that committee to find out what kinds of issues we have and what we are going to do," Comperry said.

Then, firm representatives will approach the city's employees.

"They will then have an orientation with all the city employees to let them know what is going on and to answer any questions," Comperry said. "They also did tell me that in their 20 years of working with cities they have never lowered anyone's salary. So they are going to put people at ease about that."

During the orientation, employees will be given questionnaires to help the firm better understand the ins and outs of each position.

According to a sample of the questionnaire included in the firm's proposal, some questions may include explaining the basic purpose of a person's position and listing their specific duties.

Comperry said explaining the most difficult part of a person's position is one of the most important parts of the questionnaire.

Firm representatives will meet with every city employee to discuss their questionnaire answers and to get clarity, according to the proposal. An appeals process is provided to any employee who feels their position has been classified incorrectly.

The Mercer Group, Inc. also will set up a pay scale that will include a step increase, Comperry said.

"They match up the job descriptions with the pay for that job," she said.

To ensure the city of Oak Grove is offering employee salaries that are competitive with local areas such as Hopkinsville and Clarksville, the firm will conduct a job market study, Comperry said.

"After doing the market study they will recommend salary ranges based on those findings, internal relationships, questionnaire answers and other things," she said. "They put a lot of things together to come up with salary ranges."

City council will be consulted every step of the way during this process, Comperry said. The council will have the final say on the approval of the final compensation plan the firm develops, she said. The council also will be able to make edits, she said.

Comperry said city council has the authority to create any city positions, while the mayor has the authority to hire and fire whoever to fill those positions.

Jarvis asks all city employees to embrace this process and be honest with firm representatives.

"We are a small city, so a lot of our employees do a lot more than one job," Jarvis said. "Don't be afraid of this. It's going to be a good thing. It's going to put us in a place where our employees know what their job description is. It's just something the city really does need to have in place."

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