Addressing a revamping of the City of Great Bend’s pay scale and salary structure, Human Resource Manager Randy Keasling said he and the city administration have two goals in mind – attracting new employees who want to stick around and keeping the employees they already have.
“We want people to come to work for the City of Great Bend,” he said. “We have much to be proud of here.”
Keasling was speaking to the City Council Monday night during a work session following the regular council meeting at the Events Center. It targeted a myriad of staffing woes from churning turnover to struggles filling open positions.
He said they try to update the pay and pay scale every three years, with the last revision made in 2019. “Our main point is that we need to bring these up to better position Great Bend,” he said.
“There are a lot of jobs open in Great Bend,” he said. “The competition is tough. We need to be competitive.”
Citing federal data, Keasling said since 2019, inflation has risen 5.5%, cost of living has increase 5.7% and the cost of employees for cities has increased 6.7%.
Keasling said they want to bring the city more in line with other employers, such as Barton County.
To this end, Keasling and the administration suggested a two-pronged plan.
First was a $1-per-hour increase in the pay for entry-level staff. “Our focus is on the entry-level positions,” he said.
Second was a 5% raise for those higher on the pay scale. Of this, 2% would be given across the board as a cost-of-living increase and the remaining 3% would be merit-based.
However, Finance Director Shawna Schafer said that 5% is contingent on the city’s valuation numbers it will receive from the County Clerk’s Office in mid June. These figures help determine the city property tax revenue, and if they are lower than hoped, the raise may be lower as well.
The proposal comes as the city launches its 2021-22 budget planning. This could be a hard year with the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 economic downturn and changes how the State of Kansas caps property taxes.
If funded at the recommended level, both pieces combined would cost about $500,000 annually, Schafer said.
“I am unwilling to raise the mill levee coming out of a pandemic” to pay for the 5%, said Ward 2 Councilwoman Jolene Biggs. “Are the department heads willing to make cuts?”
City Administrator Kendal Francis said a variety of options were on the table, and there is a balancing act between raises and other expenses. But, he noted the budgeting process is complex and many factors would play into funding pay hikes.
As things stand now, the 5% is feasible, he said.
No action was taken Monday night. “We just wanted to get this before you,” Keasling said.
What are the issues?
One problem is the turnover, Keasling said. In 2020, 28 employees left, and so far this year, 12 have ended employment.
Now, not all of these individuals quit because of pay. But, all of the city department heads present Monday night said they have heard complaints about salaries.
“The department heads must create a place where people want to work,” Keasling said, be that pay or workplace culture. “It’s a daily goal of ours.”
But, there was some push-back on this from the governing body. “You have to be proactive,” said Biggs, who added she’s heard grumbling from out-going staff about work environments.
Ward 1 Councilwoman Lindsey Krom-Craven agreed. “Some department heads don’t know the names of all their employees.”
“I think its a department head issue, not the pay scale,” said Mayor Cody Schmidt.
But, with all this said, Ward 3 Councilman Cory Urban noted the quality of the job candidate pool has declined and finding good staff is a problem.
“It’s a challenge,” Keasling said. “A lot of it is communication.”
In addition, hiring is another issue, Keasling said.
Currently, there are 17 full-time openings and two part-time vacancies. This amounts to about 11% of the city’s workforce.
Making this worse is the aging of the city’s workforce. Of the 156 presently employed, 15 (10%) are 65 and older and 30 (19%) are 55-64, with many of these personnel in key management positions.
There have been efforts to improve benefit packages and the city hopes to increase its retirement contributions as well.