City asked to pump up trainers’ pay at Town Center

By Brett Jones/Staff Writer
published Jan. 8, 2009

Local aerobics instructors and personal trainers say they are feeling the burn from below-market wages and under staffing, and are asking City Council members to cool the issue down with pay raises.

Michelle Ellis, a personal trainer and former aerobics instructor at Town Center, warned Council members Tuesday the city’s trainers are being paid below the market value for the jobs they are doing, and failure to correct the issue will make it increasingly difficult to keep quality programs in place.

“What I am asking City Council for is to seriously consider a pay increase for these instructors to at least bring them up to the bottom range of what instructors should make here locally,” said Ellis, who addressed the Council in the public comment portion of the meeting.

Since it wasn’t on the agenda, Council members weren’t supposed to discuss the issue. However, some sought answers from staff and patrons at the meeting, drawing a warning from the city attorney.

Ellis, who was one of several residents and instructors who spoke in support of the programs, told Council members city aerobics instructors with one to four years of experience should make at least $15 an hour, a rate at the bottom range of what such trainers make in comparison with neighboring cities. Although she has since resigned, Ellis said as a lead instructor with 13 years experience she should earn around $22 an hour, but she made $12.25 an hour while fellow instructors made $10 to $10.25 an hour.

“I understand we are a city where (we) are a lot smaller than the metro area, but at the same point, I feel like we have to put forth money in order to do our jobs, so therefore I feel like we should at least make the bottom range of money that we could potentially make,” she said.

Ellis said an average aerobics class has 15 students, though instructors have seen as many as 25 and as few as five.

As for personal trainers, Ellis said the going rate for such an instructor to be on staff is $25 an hour, but she receives only $18.50.

The city began its personal training program a year ago, as a way to not only better serve customers but also to reduce the legal liability that the city might be exposed to if an outside trainer used the city facility to train a customer, and that customer was injured.

Since the personal trainer program started, Ellis said her clients have brought in $3,650 to the community center, but she has only been paid is $1,942.

Justin Battles, parks and recreational director, said he understands the concerns that local pay is below industry standard.

Battles said the personal training instructors agreed to the wage when the program was started and there was an understanding that the city would have to see how the program did financially before program changes could be discussed.

“It hasn’t generated as much as we hoped,” Battles said. “We haven’t seen the response from citizens to utilize it and we haven’t seen the revenue.”

He said the city had hoped to see about $5,000 in gross profits generated in the final six months of fiscal year 2007-2008, but the city only saw about $2,000. He said had they met their target, they would have asked for the personal trainer raise estimated at about $20 per hour from Council. In the first six months of fiscal year 2008-2009, the city has seen only about $2,700 in gross profits so “It is still not a very big market for us,” he said.

As for aerobics, Battles said the city typically has six to eight instructors on staff to handle the 36 scheduled classes per week. However the number had shrunk to four, leading some instructors attending Tuesday’s meeting to warn Council that they physically could not keep up with the demands of the class and could be risking injury.

Battles said Tuesday he had hired two additional instructors earlier in the day.

Battles said no financial goal was set for the aerobics program other than it not to run in the red. He said it is now breaking even after rate changes was approved by Council two years ago.

“We have seen our memberships climb,” Battles said. “We have seen our aerobics numbers climb from an average of eight (students per class) to an average of 15. So we have seen it become more successful and grow.”

City Manager David Cockrell told Council staff would look for ways to increase pay, but any such plan would need to balance the concerns of the instructors with the desires of the customers and their willingness to pay an increased cost.

Cockrell said the city strives to make such programs “cost-net neutral,” and if changes are made, it may require users of the programs to be pay more so that the city is not paying to subsidize the program to keep it afloat.

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