By Kristin Mamrack/Columbus Commercial Dispatch

COLUMBUS — Mississippi municipal employees' salaries comparatively may be low, but their benefits packages largely are among the best offered, say officials at The John C. Stennis Institute of Government.

The institute compiles an annual survey of the salaries and benefits packages offered by Mississippi municipalities.

"We've only been looking at benefits the last two or three years," said Jeff Markham, a Stennis Institute researcher who helps compile the report. "But if there's a trend that I've noticed, it's that there's not a trend.

"You've got some (municipalities) that offer educational benefits and some that offer some of the best health benefits you'd see, in the public or private sector," he said. "That's one of the benefits municipalities offer in Mississippi.

"One of the things we've always noticed is Mississippi salaries will lag behind, but their benefits are extremely competitive. Employees usually focus on what is their wage, but they don't look at what the overall package is. Cities should really do a better job of promoting this, especially when they hire rank-and-file employees, entry level employees."

Each city in the state is "unique" regarding the benefits packages offered for city employees, Markham said.

In Columbus, city employees pay a health insurance premium of $28 a month or $14 a pay period for employee-only coverage, said the city's human resources director, Pat Mitchell, noting the deductible required is $1,500 for health insurance and $25 for dental insurance.

For coverage for an employee and the employee's spouse, the monthly premium is $240.22, including the employee's $28 monthly premium.

Coverage of an employee and the employee's child or children means a monthly premium of $133.58 and family coverage is $308.84 a month.

The city does not offer any bonuses for city employees.

City employees enjoy 12 paid holidays each year, plus any other days the governor designates as paid holidays.

And the city offers vacation and sick leave to employees, based on their length of service.

"The amount of days employees accrue varies according to (whether) police, fire or administrative employees," said Mitchell. "Each of these areas is different due to the number of hours worked.

"Also, employees accrue set hours up to 10 years (of service). On the 10th year anniversary, the accrual rate increases. Then, it increases on the anniversary date on the 15th year. Employees accrue either eight hours or 12 hours of sick leave per month, depending on the department he or she works in."

The city of Starkville provides medical, dental and life insurance for city employees at no cost to the employee, said Personnel Officer Randy Boyd, noting the provision applies to employee-only coverage.

Employees pay the full cost for dependent coverage.

City employees receive $10,000 in life insurance and have a $500 deductible on their medical insurance.

No employees receive any type of bonus, but full-time employees receive retirement benefits and city employees are offered paid holidays, annual leave and sick leave.

The amount of annual leave offered is based on length of service.

Employees with one to three years of continual service can accrue 12 hours per month or 18 days annually.

Employees with 37 months to eight years of service can accrue 14 hours per month or 21 days annually.

Employees with 97 months to 15 years of service can accrue 16 hours per month or 24 days annually, and employees with more than 15 years of service can accrue 18 hours per month or 27 days annually.

The amount of sick leave which an employee can accrue also is based on length of service.

"In the past, the city has provided 100 percent of health coverage (to employees)," said West Point City Administrator Randy Jones. "(But) in January, it's (changing to) a 50/50 deal, where the city will provide half of the basic health insurance premiums."

The city will continue to "absorb all costs for accidental death, dismemberment and life insurance on the employees," Jones said, noting employees have a $500 deductible on their health insurance.

City employees receive five holidays off work, but they are not paid for their time, unless they use allotted vacation time during the holidays.

After a year of probation, full-time employees receive annual leave or vacation time based on the length of time served.

Additionally, West Point employees are offered an "attendance incentive."

"For every month with perfect attendance, the incentive is one-twelfth of 1 percent of your base pay," Jones said. "If you have perfect attendance for a year, you'll receive 1 percent of your base pay."

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