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What’s the job worth?


Several factors come into play when you set the appropriate salary for a job.

What’s the going rate? If an accepted level of pay been determined by other employers’ decisions, that limits your options. It’s a matter of both being fair and knowing that if you don’t pony up the cash, someone else will.

Does the job require a unique set of skills or qualities that are hard to find? If you’re looking for a surgeon to work at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, you’re looking at a limited number of qualified people, and a lot of them probably could find a job in a more glamorous spot with less snow. You have to pay handsomely, and we do. Look at the online list of state salaries, and you’ll scroll for a long time before getting past the people with Johnson County addresses who make more than $100,000.

Is success at the job likely to bring substantial financial rewards for the employer? Back to Iowa City: It seems ludicrous to pay anybody $1.7 million to coach football – but when Kirk Ferentz not only fills the seats at Kinnick Stadium but also takes the Hawkeyes to a high-paying bowl game every year, his salary looks less like an expense and more like an investment.

Are you determined to land this person because you believe he or she has personal qualities that fit the job perfectly? That’s a tough one to predict, and it’s tough to evaluate after the hiring, too. Every company has its stars, people who seem to be crucial to its current level of success. However, in most cases, no matter who quits or retires, life rolls on.

And when it comes to raises, are you so concerned about losing the employee that you’re willing to pay whatever it takes to keep him or her happy?

That brings us to L.D. McMullen, general manager and CEO of the Des Moines Water Works. Everyone seems to like McMullen and hold his job performance in high regard. It’s not every water boss who gets to go through life with a nickname like “The Flood Stud.”

But you have to wonder where his raise to $204,851 – plus $20,000 a year for his retirement account – fits into the grand scheme of public employee compensation.

Great guy – but indispensable? That’s doubtful. Doing a fine job – but were we in danger of losing him to someone else? Probably not. Underpaid compared with his peers? No.

Our leaders keep telling us times are hard. They don’t always act like it.

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