With budget meetings on the horizon, Fort Smith officials are discussing potential wage increases for city workers.
Non-competitive pay has been a problem in retaining employees in some departments, including the police department.
“People are going to change jobs for a multitude of reasons, one of which we are focusing on is making sure it’s not (related to salary),” said city administrator Carl Geffken.
Blair Johanson, Chairman of the Johanson Group, presented a 2021 salary and benefits study to board members during their September 28 study session. The last study was carried out in 2019.
City employees have been eligible for various increases over the past few years, with 2021 being a year for possible merit increases. The last increase in the cost of living adjustment was in 2018, which included a 2.5% adjustment.
âYear over year, I don’t think the city is following the market average when it comes to annual salary adjustments based on the past six years,â Johanson said.
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The study’s recommendation for improving employee wages included an hourly wage of $ 11.54 for part-time employees and a minimum hourly wage of $ 13.54 for lower-level full-time employees. . Existing employees will receive an increase of 0.5% to 3 +% depending on their location in the updated salary scale.
Salaries for entry-level police and fire departments would increase 4% to $ 40,120 and $ 37,856, respectively.
Salary increases have already helped tackle turnover issues, including in firefighters in 2018, Geffken said. Salaries were increased and pay scales adjusted to accommodate the skill level of employees after Fire Chief Phil Christensen brought the issue to him.
Some private companies in the region offer better wages
Council members were skeptical of what the recommended increase would do for city employees.
General manager Kevin Settle pointed out that there are companies and factories in the area offering more than $ 16 an hour for similar entry-level positions.
âDo we really think people are going to come to work at $ 13.54 an hour? Settle down asked.
Salaries for machine operators at Rheem Manufacturing Co. and Mars Petcare start at $ 20 and up according to Glassdoor estimates. It does not specify what level of experience corresponds to the level of remuneration. The starting salary in town for a machine operator without a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is $ 12.95.
The city will pay for workers to receive the training and their wages will increase once it is completed, with room for continued growth, Geffken said.
Geffken pointed out that while salaries in the private sector are often higher, they sometimes do not include the same level of social benefits.
Chief Executive Officer Robyn Dawson said she believes the city could be a driving force for some employees whose families are living below the poverty line while working full time.
The federal poverty line for a family of four is $ 26,500, according to ASPE 2021 guidelines. If the Johanson Group recommendation is implemented, a full-time employee earning $ 13.54 per hour would receive approximately $ 28,000 per year before taxes or overtime.
âTo me it’s a sad situation that if you work full time and have a family you’re still below the line,â she said.
This is another reason why city officials are looking to raise wages, Geffken said.
âWe don’t want our employees like that,â Geffken said.
Dawson recommended that the city look at employees at the bottom of the pay scale while weighing the direction to take.
The 2022 budget will be discussed and decided in the coming months.
Abbi Ross is the town’s reporter for the Southwest Times Record. She can be reached at aross @ swtimes or on Twitter at @__AbbiRoss