Generically, they're called city employees, municipal workers, maybe bureaucrats if you're angry. But the city's 1,400 employees have a whopping 475 job titles.

That's inefficient, a new study says, and it's likely costing the city employees who leave because they're not certain what's next in their career path or because their pay seems unfair compared to someone else with a similar job title in a different department.

Mayor Alan Webber called the report—the city's third compensation and classification study in 13 years—"a building block toward professionalizing and upgrading the management of city government." Provided, he cautioned, the city actually does something with it.

The report has three major recommendations, which would have to be approved by the City Council to become official policy.

The city should reduce its job titles from 475 to 330, it should narrow the gap between what the lowest- and highest-paid employees with the same title make, and it should give a pay bump to some workers who Webber termed "front-line" employees. Those are jobs like lifeguard, bus driver and, to some extent, new police officers.

The pay adjustment would require new agreements with the police, fire and general municipal workers' unions. It would cost the city an estimated $1.5 million a year going forward.

City Manager Erik Litzenberg said that for many employees who begin working at a union job, a prime concern is a sensible career ladder. The former fire chief said that police and fire departments naturally have a more regimented approach to a career where qualifications, performance and responsibility are mapped out, as well as pay.

“Watching how the rest of the city worked, it always seemed like things were perhaps a bit more haphazard. And it made me wonder: If I wanted to do a career that’s in a less-structured environment, what would that look like? What would I do to get myself ready for the next phase and the next phase and the next phase?” Litzenberg said.

Without a rational approach to creating careers in city government, Litzenberg and city Human Resources Director Bernadette Salazar said, Santa Fe will have a hard time retaining good employees or attracting quality candidates. Salazar also said prolonged periods of lagging the employment market's average rate have left Santa Fe with chronic shortages in positions like lifeguards and transit drivers.

The city generally lands within a percentage point of the middle of the pay range for other government employers in the Southwest. The $1.5 million it would take to cover raises for select employees equals roughly half a percent of the city's $335 million annual budget.

The city contracted with Springsted, Inc. to complete the study after a competitive bid process. The price tag alarmed some city councilors when it came in at nearly a quarter of a million dollars—$100,000 more than expected, thus requiring some last-minute budget shuffling.

The contract runs through March 2019, with part of the additional cost to the city due to an internal system Springsted gave the city to monitor implementation of the study's findings.