Salary survey: Public works director
A lot of water has passed through the pipes in the past seven years, but how have the local governments’ gyrations during that time affected the average public works director? When American City & County last asked them about their compensation in 2004, the average respondent was 51 years old and male. Today, males continue to dominate the profession, but a few notable changes have occurred. For example, the number of women in the top public works job increased from 4.6 percent to 7.8 percent — with counties reporting 16.7 percent female public works directors versus 6.4 percent in municipalities. And, unlike seven years ago when no salary decreases were reported, one in 10 public works directors said their salary was cut in this year’s survey.
For the most part, current public works directors appear similar to the previous survey, with one big exception: those 60 and older. In 2004, 14.1 percent of respondents were over age 60, while today that percentage has increased to 21.1 percent, possibly as a result of many of them being unable to afford to retire. The number of 30- to 49-year-old public works directors also increased in the past seven years, while there are now fewer directors age 50 to 59.
Salaries trend upward
Salaries appear to be creeping up since the previous survey, with only 7.2 percent reporting salaries lower than $50,000 in 2011 versus 28.8 percent in 2004. However, the number of people reporting salaries between $50,000 and $74,999 decreased (31 percent compared to 46.4 percent seven years ago), and those making between $75,000 and $99,999 were nearly identical between the two surveys (24.7 percent in 2011 versus 23.5 percent in 2004).
The largest increases were found in the highest paid categories. For example, those reporting salaries between $100,000 and $124,999 increased from 6.8 percent in 2004 versus 19 percent today. The dollars continued to flow upward to those making $125,000 to $149,999 (1.9 percent in 2004 compared to 12.7 percent today).
Salary increases were reported by 41.4 percent of this year’s respondents versus 76 percent in 2004. Approximately 75 percent of those who noted an increased salary received a 1 to 3 percent bump. Salaries remained the same for slightly more than 48 percent of respondents, compared to 24 percent seven years ago, but the big change was the more than 10 percent of today’s respondents who reported decreased compensation.
Benefit declines in some areas
Benefits are a large part of public works officials’ compensation, and there is very little difference between the responses in 2004 and 2011. However, fewer people reported benefits in areas such as auto allowance (55.9 percent in 2004 versus 36.7 percent today); family leave (nearly 72 percent in 2004 compared to around 59 percent today); pre-tax retirement plan (nearly 63 percent in 2004 and about 48 percent today); trade show/convention/seminar expenses (about 72 percent seven years ago compared to only approximately 60 percent today); and training expenses (about 49 percent in 2004 compared to 37 percent today).
A decade of recessions and budget cuts have left today’s public works directors with similar challenges to 2004. However, in 2004, public works directors reported that their top two challenges were funding and number of employees. In 2011, 87 percent of the respondents named budget/funding as one of the three most important challenges they face, and only about 22 percent listed number of employees as a challenge. Infrastructure quality rose to the second most important challenge (nearly 54 percent) followed by public expectations (around 45 percent).
Related to both staffing and funding, most respondents (70.9 percent) said they expected their staff to remain the same size next year, compared to 67.3 percent in 2004. Only 9.4 percent expect an increase in staff next year, compared to 23.6 percent seven years ago, and more than twice the percentage saw a decrease in staff size coming in the next 12 months (8.4 percent in 2004 compared to 19.7 percent today).
Planning to retire?
Three questions were added to this year’s public works compensation survey, including one about retirement plans. While the number of respondents age 60 or older increased between the two surveys from roughly 14 percent to more than 21 percent today, nearly 39 percent of respondents said they were going to retire in the next one to five years. Further, of those reporting they will retire in the next five years, about 89 percent of respondents 60 and older say they will retire, versus approximately 55 percent of those 55 to 59 years old.
When asked what newer or existing technologies most impress public works directors, geographic information systems and global positioning systems ranked as the top two at 76 percent and 73.6 percent, respectively. Mobile devices placed third at nearly 58 percent, followed closely by wireless networking (51.2 percent).
Finally, when public works directors were asked to grade their infrastructure, only slightly more than one-third of the respondents gave their community high grades. Nearly half (48.4 percent,) gave their community a “C” in this area, and few ranked their infrastructure with a failing or near-failing grade. In most cases, cities and counties graded their infrastructure similarly.
In other survey findings, the majority (56 percent) of respondents have been in their present position between two and 10 years, and 59 percent have college degrees (either a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree). The survey was mailed in early August 2011 to all American City & County subscribers with a public works director, superintendent, supervisor or similar title.
Bill Wolpin is American City & County’s editorial director and associate publisher.
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Public Works Director salary and benefits survey results
|What is your annual salary range?|
|$30,000 to $39,999||4.6%|
|$40,000 to $49,999||2.4%|
|$50,000 to $59,999||6.2%|
|$60,000 to $69,999||13.9%|
|$70,000 to $79,999||10.1%|
|$80,000 to $89,999||13.2%|
|$90,000 to $99,999||10.8%|
|$100,000 to $124,999||20.2%|
|$125,000 to $149,999||13.2%|
|$150,000 and above||5.4%|
|Has your salary increased, decreased
or stayed the same over the past 12 months?
|Stayed the same||48.1%|
|Please indicate the fringe benefits your
government unit paid either fully or partially.
|Auto or auto allowance||37.4%|
|Holidays, including floater(s)||98.5%|
|Long-term disability plan||46.6%|
|Pre-tax retirement plan||48.1%|
|Short-term disability plan||33.6%|
|Trade show/convention/seminar expenses||59.5%|
|Tuition reimbursement plan||37.4%|
|What are the 3 most important challenges you face?|
|Number of employees||22.9%|
|Attracting and retaining qualified employees||22.9%|
|Which new technologies or
new uses for older technologies
|Other (please specify)||4%|
|What grade would you
give your jurisdiction’s
|Are you planning to retire
in the next 1 to 5 years?