The current state of the economy and number of available jobs has prompted at least one area city to increase its starting wage for city crewmembers.
At a budget workshop meeting the Plummer City Council voted to raise the starting pay for crew workers from $14 to $16 per hour.
The decision comes amidst high turnover and difficulty finding qualified applicants to fill city crew positions.
“… higher starting wage with COLA/Merit increases along with certification increase schedules hopefully will help with attraction/retention. We’ll see how it goes,” Plummer Mayor Bill Weems said in an email.
The city has seen 60 percent of its crew depart for higher wages according to City Clerk Sara Allen
“I’ve been involved with the city for—this is my eighth year—and we’ve had a revolving door,” Mayor Weems said at the meeting. “… At $14 an hour we can’t get people to come in.”
Multiple former employees left their city positions to fill similar roles that paid more than $20 per hour according to Public Works Director Leonard Johnson.
According to Ms. Allen, under the previous pay scale it took a city worker five years to earn $18 per hour or more.
City crewmembers are required to earn a commercial driver license which makes them more marketable in the private sector where such drivers are in high demand.
“If you go get a CDL with no experience right now you get like a $5,000 sign on bonus and you start making $22 per hour, no experience,” Mr. Johnson said.
Retention may also suffer because Plummer city workers are tasked with fulfilling multiple roles.
According to Mr. Johnson city crews are responsible for maintenance of streets, water, wastewater, electric, city parks and the cemetery. He said that with other employers it is less likely that crewmembers would be tasked with multiple responsibilities.
The city’s inability to retain employees strains the whole system.
“...with all the turnover we’ve had it screws up the insurance, it screws up everything on the inside with payroll and everything and it’s not fair to Leonard to have to retrain people every other week or every couple of months,” Ms. Allen said.
According to Ms. Allen the increase in wages from $14 to $16 per hour equates to an additional expense of approximately $4,500.
The city employs nine full-time and four part-time employees and has two vacancies. The Plummer library also has a vacancy but handles hiring separate from the city.
Requests for comment from the cities of Harrison and St. Maries were not responded to in time for this publication.