With the goal of making sure they're paying enough to retain top employees, Marana and Oro Valley are commissioning studies to bring their pay scales in line with those in similar markets.

The Texas-based firm Waters Consulting Group, which Marana is paying $96,300 to conduct the research, is putting together a comprehensive study of the town's jobs and pay scales, comparing them with Arizona municipalities and national data. The study will suggest appropriate pay rates and redefine job descriptions.

The firm will update the Town Council on the study's progress at a Tuesday regular, public meeting at 7 p.m. at the Marana Municipal Complex, 11555 W. Civic Center Drive. The study should be completed in August.

Oro Valley Town Manager Greg Caton said Oro Valley has yet to select a firm to conduct its study. He said the town hasn't done an in-depth study since 2003, and the last time it did a "light version" of such a study was 2008.

Caton hopes to have a firm contracted within the next eight to 12 weeks. The study, for which the town will pay as much as $30,000, will be conducted in the fall, and the results will be delivered by the end of the calendar year so the recommendations can be implemented in the fiscal 2014-15 budget.

Marana human resources director Suzanne Machain said one of the town's strategic initiatives is to "develop highly competitive pay philosophy to recruit and retain quality professional staff."

The last time Marana conducted a study and made pay adjustments was 2008.

"The pay plan can get out of whack after a few years of not maintaining the plan," Machain said.

Caton echoed that.

"It's good practice to conduct a survey every few years," Caton said. "The frequency depends on the labor market. Obviously, most people would admit the labor market was fairly soft for a good number of years. But we're starting to see some recovery in the labor market. It's clearly different than 2003 and 2008. It's a significant portion of your budget, making sure you are properly compensating employees. You need to make sure you're not underpaying and make sure you're not overpaying."

Oro Valley's payroll for fiscal year 2012 was $17.4 million. Marana's was $15.5 million.

Machain said boosting employee pay to market level is good for morale.

"I think that folks feel the study is a good thing. I think some are excited," she said. "All employees want to be paid fairly and what the market offers. We're looking forward to the recommendations."

She added, "People have a tendency to think they're gonna get something out of it. Maybe sometimes they do. Maybe sometimes they don't."

No employees will receive a pay cut due to either town's study. Machain said Marana is working to make sure any pay increases aren't jarring.

"If the council accepts the recommendations and they cost a lot of money, we want to be careful about that," she said. "We are asking for recommendations that step gradually into what the final recommendation will be. It probably won't all happen in the first year. We'll address the more critical and several issues first. We've asked them to be pretty practical."

Caton said Oro Valley's survey will ensure the town retains a high quality of services.

"I'm a firm believer that quality of employees, public or private, have opportunities as the labor market comes back," he said. "We have to make sure we don't lose that great talent we have here."

Search salary databases

StarNet has created databases where you can search the 2012 salaries of Marana and Oro Valley town employees, including police, administration and council members. The databases are easy to use - search by an employee's name, department or job title to view annual pay and details including hourly earnings, date of employment and overtime.

Search the databases at azstarnet.com/databases online.

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or pvillarreal@azstarnet.com