Unless budget constraints dictate otherwise, Centerville will continue to strive for an attractive compensation plan for its municipal employees.

The City Council agreed during a work session Tuesday night that it should continue supporting the philosophy of placing employee pay in the "third quartile," meaning wages would be higher than 75 percent of comparative cities.Because it was a work session, council members took no formal votes, but they all expressed support for the idea.

"If you are trying to attract quality employees, then that is a big step," said City Manager Steve Thacker.

The City Council first adopted the philosophy of quality pay equals quality employees in 1992, when turnover rates for municipal jobs were high.

By 1996, when the city last conducted a wage comparison survey, Centerville's wages had reached the third quartile.

"It's unusual to see a council do that, and I commend you," Thack-er said.

Since 1996, however, no cost-of-living or market increases have been given, a fact some council members attributed to a tight budget.

A cost-of-living increase is based on the Consumer Price Index. A market increase is based on comparative employers' wage increases.

Thacker, who opposes cost-of-living increases, estimated a market increase would probably fall at around 5 percent. To stay in the third quartile, however, he said the city should expect to give workers a 7 or 8 percent increase.

Also addressed during the work session was employee raises. Currently, the city uses a step raise scale. Each year, an employee either moves to the next step on the pay scale or remains at the same level, which means getting no raise.

Instead of that system, Thacker recommended the city set minimum and maximum raises and then allow departments to determine individual employee raises. Otherwise, he said, someone performing at expectations will receive the same raise as someone performing above expectations, which can hurt morale.

While expressing their support, council members voiced some concern that revenue shortfalls would not allow them to accomplish all of their goals.

"Often times, the budget has dictated otherwise," Councilman Michael Barton said.

Especially concerning to Barton was a shortage of expected sales tax revenue from recent business additions such as SuperTarget. But he stopped short of saying the raises would not happen.

"We have a responsibility to the taxpayers to provide quality service," he said.

Although the council members had vocally supported the third-quartile philosophy, none of them wanted to commit to anything before seeing the actual dollar figures of the budget.

"We need to come back and deal with the specifics," said Mayor Frank Hirschi.

The council recommended a wage comparison survey be undertaken, which should be completed within the next couple of weeks. By that time, budget discussions will have started and the council can test the financial feasibility of the philosophy.