Henry and Clayton have commissioned salary compensation studies to see if their wages are competitive with peers in metro Atlanta. Law enforcement salaries have been of particular focus in wage studies as the growing number of new cities in metro Atlanta have made police and fire staff hot commodities. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Clayton, Henry look to salary study to keep pace with metro wages

With the economy strong and unemployment low, Clayton and Henry government leaders want to make sure they are paying county workers competitive salaries.

The southside communities have commissioned studies — due in the coming months — that they hope will help them avoid having employees poached by others offering more lucrative salaries.

VIDEO: Previous Clayton County news

The county will shell out $1.5 million to compensate officers for work they did over a period of years for which the officers were never paid.

“The value of waiting on the compensation study is that you have empirical data to utilize (on whether to increase pay),” said Clayton Chief Operating Officer Detrick Stanford.

Kevin Williams, a spokesman for Henry County, agreed, saying that Henry’s goal is to align pay with job responsibilities and to better classify jobs.

Compensation studies have been cropping up across metro Atlanta — DeKalb, Cobb and Coweta also have done them — as unemployment rates continue to fall and workers have more job options.

Law enforcement pay has been a big focus of several studies because the creation new metro area cities has made it easier for police to find more competitive wages.

“Because the unemployment rate is so low, people who are your valued employees are highly employable elsewhere,” said Julie Smith, president of Custom Human Resource Solutions, an Alpharetta-based human resources consultancy. “The question you face is, ‘We can get people in the door, but how do we keep them.’”

Clayton’s tax commissioner and solicitor general both argued that commission members didn’t need to wait for the study to be completed, saying other metro counties offered better pay for some jobs.

Williams said the county began its study last August and hopes to bring it to the county commission in the coming weeks.

Understanding how its pay stacks up compared to competitors is particularly important in Clayton. Property values, which make up much of a county’s income, were slower to rebound from the recession than in other parts of metro Atlanta. That means Clayton may not have as much compensation wiggle room as others.

“Clearly, if during the recessionary market you’re not bouncing back as quick as your respective municipalities in the metro area, then your infusion of dollars and incentives are going to be a little behind the others,” Stanford said.

To lure or keep workers, Clayton can promote its lower cost of living, easier commutes to work and the advantage of having the world’s busiest airport — Hartsfield-Jackson International — in your backyard.

“We have to think outside the box and figure out ways to incentivize employees that don’t always call for money,” he said.

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