Not all lawmakers confident in how compensation for engineers tabulated

07/07/2015 04:03 PM

FRANKFORT – Some lawmakers are defending raises for state engineers who are being edged out in compensation from their private sector counterparts, but not all members of a joint committee feel compensation packages are being tabulated in the correct way.

The Kentucky Personnel Cabinet related to lawmakers salary break downs obtained from a January 2014 salary survey of public and private engineering salaries conducted by CompData, a national compensation survey firm, which showed Kentucky Transportation Cabinet engineer salaries far below neighboring states.

For example, a Civil Engineer III average compensation which includes salaries and benefits, in the Midwest Region was $94,400, $92,500 in the South Central Region, $91,400 in the Southeast region, while the same job paid just $60,950 in the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

Turnover has been another big problem as the cabinet has seen an exodus of engineers for significantly better pay and benefits being offered by private engineering firms, highway contractors, and local governments.

This has resulted in a higher rate of contract work used in engineering services by the cabinet.

The cabinet contracted $150.7 million for services in 2014, compared to $101.7 million in 2004 — a 48.1 percent increase.

Fifteen years ago, the Transportation Cabinet performed 70 percent of its design engineering work in-house in terms of project cost. Today, 70 percent is performed by outside consultants.

Approximately 550 transportation employees got raises in June of about 20 percent as salaries were found to be noncompetitive. The boost in pay comes at a cost of $7.8 million per year.

Committee co-chair Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, felt that the expense is justified and, in effect, would save taxpayers money in the long run.

“When you compare it to the fact that we had an almost a $50 million increase in consulting between one year and another, is (money) well spent,” Harris said.

Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, questioned why pensions were not considered by cabinet officials when looking at the total compensation package under the current salary structure.

“Sometimes a person’s retired a lot longer than they work,” Robinson said. “To get an actual cost it would take more than their salary and benefits now.”

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, was concerned that there are more state employees across the spectrum that is making far less in compensation than in the private sector, and why engineers have been singled out exclusively for the increases.

“That’s one of a handful of jobs that I can name off the top of my head that are positions in state government that aren’t competitive salary for salary with the private sector,” Westerfield said. “We just saw raises for correctional officers who have turnover at an incredible clip. “You have social workers, prosecutors, not competitive.
Public defenders in certain offices that I’m aware of, not competitive.”

Don Weber

Don Weber is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers politics and education on Pure Politics, Kentucky’s only nightly program dedicated to state politics. Don is a lifelong Kentuckian and a graduate of Northern Kentucky University. He spent many years covering sports in the Northern Kentucky area before shifting primarily to politics. You can watch Don’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. If you have a story idea you can reach Don at donald.weber@charter.com.

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