Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau City Council on Tuesday approved establishing a budget of about $100,000 and an accompanying plan to recognize exemplary performance of employees, funds that will be distributed at the discretion and recommendation of their department heads.

“It is a way for us to identify exemplary employees,” City’s Human Resources Director Toni Vanderboom told council members, explaining the rationale behind setting up a budget for the proposed Discretionary Performance Incentives (DPI). 

Until now, the only way to recognize employee performance was to channel money marked for vacancies, to make the incentive budget neutral.

“That means that we have a lot of departments with really good workers where we have no avenue in which to recognize them,” Vanderboom said. Later, during the discussion, she said some employees have pointed out that they perform an “extra project” but receive the same pay increase as others who don’t.

This move creates an established budget for that purpose.

According to the new plan, directors of each department will write to the HR Department explaining why they recommended employees for the performance incentive. Vanderboom said the City Council will be informed of any such payments to employees and reasons behind them. DPI money will carry over from year to year.

That amount set aside for DPI will be budget neutral, according to the HR Department, since the money would come from health insurance savings. 

Under the plan devised by the HR Department – prorated distribution with a minimum guaranteed amount – each department will receive at least $2,500. Larger departments will see larger amounts. Vanderboom said resorting to only a prorated distribution would have meant that the smaller departments would be left with an  amount too small to effectively recognize employees.

“If a department with one employee wants to recognize that one employee, they have up to $2500 available,” Vanderboom told Wausau Pilot & Review. “However, the DPI increase is capped at 4.5% increase. So if a 4.5% increase is less than $2500, the increase stops at 4.5%.”

She also said the amount is not intended to be evenly distributed to all employees in the department.

“A request to evenly distribute the DPI budget amount to all employees in a department would be denied by HR as not compliant with the DPI program,” she said.

Alderman Tom Neal (Dist. 4), referring to a public comment, asked the HR director to address concerns about “inequitable access” and the plan’s fairness. Vandrboom said city leaders are trying to be as equitable as possible but the intention is not to give that extra money to each employee; rather, it is intended to recognize “great” performance. 

During the public comments period, a resident said the DPI plan was not equitable and fair and added that if there were extra funds, it should be returned to the public. He urged the council to vote ‘no’ and come up with a more reasonable and equitable distribution.

The DPI is meant only for about 188 non-union represented staff. When Alder Tom Kilian asked the reason for that restriction, Vanderboom referred to separate employee contracts that govern union-represented and non-represented employees.

“The union contract explicitly prohibits us from giving economic recognition to their employees…so the DPI applies only to non-represented only,” the HR director said.

Kilian responded by pointing out that this looked like yet another instance of the bonus going to non-represented staff but not to union-represented personnel.

Kilian was referring to a debate late last year about a compensation proposal for the City’s non-represented staff. Subsequently, the City Council referred the proposal – to pay mid-to-senior non-represented employees $1,000 each – back to the Human Resources Committee which had approved that plan. “It looks like the same type of thing in a different language.”

Vanderboom said the arrangement to recognize non-represented employees has been there for more than five years.

“What we are asking for is to correct the inequity that limits that recognition to only to the departments with vacancies,” she said.

She accepted a suggestion from Alder Lou Larson (Dist. 10) to include the DPI incentive into union contracts in the future so that the union employees are also included in the incentives program.

Alder Lisa Rasmussen (Dist. 7) said a previous program, a payroll plan, did not work. “It was set to fail because it never had enough money,” she said, adding that she sees the proposed DPI plan as a fair arrangement.

Alders Sarah Watson (Dist. 8) and Pat Peckam (Dist. 1) agreed with Rasmussen.

The vote to approve the DPI was 9-1, with Kilian the lone dissenter. Alder Debra Ryan (Dist. 11) did not attend the meeting.

(To read the documents related to DPI, click here, and go to page 16. For the HR department’s explanation and recommendation, visit pages 20-22.)