Like every employer across the country, the city of Greenville is experiencing a challenge in recruiting and retaining employees.
That was the message delivered to the City Council during a work-study session on Tuesday afternoon, and the solutions will not be easy.
The discussion was part of the city's 2021-2022 budgeting process. The City Council also heard from Community Services Director Steve Methven about the unprecedented growth the city is facing in the coming months.
"I've never seen anything like it in my 10 years," Methven said of the explosion of permits and inspections his department is handling.
Methven's key message — he needs help.
Finding workers will be a challenge the Council will have to tackle, and members did not rule out bonuses and other measures to improve recruitment and retention.
Sheri Wells, the city's human resources director, told the Council that turnover is an issue in the wake of COVID-19, which took a severe toll on city workers. However, it's the post-pandemic employment situation that is drawing concern.
"We are no exception," Wells said to a spate of resignations, retirements and other departures. "We do have a series of openings we are trying to hire for."
For many businesses and services, finding employees has been a struggle. While some blame government unemployment benefits for suppressing recruitment, there has been plenty of speculation that employees are more selective when looking for work.
Wells said Greenville's salaries might be lower than other cities, especially when it comes to entry-level positions. City street maintenance workers earn about $12 per hour, while the same work in Rockwall makes about $14, she said.
In 2020-2021, 71 employees left their city or GEUS jobs. The city also suffered an employee death from COVID-19. The departures are a dramatic increase from the previous year when 44 left.
The city is facing an increasing number of retirement-eligible employees. As of July 1, 73 employees are eligible for retirement through age or years of service.
"Normally, we have about 10 retirements per year," Wells said. The city has had 18 retirements already this year.
First-term City Councilman Ben Collins asked if some of the jobs could be remote, but Wells said many of the positions required manual labor. However, Wells said that remote work could be considered a sign-on bonus for some.
However, it's salaries that may be the biggest issue, said Wells, who added that most people leave for more money or because of a problem with a supervisor.
Answering a question from Mayor Jerry Ransom, Wells said Greenville is competitive in some areas but behind in others in terms of salary.
"We have to do something; we are going to lose a lot of people,'' Councilman Kenneth Freeman said.
Wells also said COVID-19 proved to be a dramatic disruption over the last year. At least 90 city workers tested positive for the virus, several were hospitalized and one worker died.
In other Council business:
n The City Council unanimously approved a liquor store to go into a former gym in the 8000 block of Wesley Street. The Council had delayed the decision because two liquor stores were applying for conditional use permits to open stores across from each other. When the competitor dropped its bid, Hunt County Liquor Store was clear to open its store.
n Councilman Tim Kruse, who was participating via video conference, said he wants to re-visit complaints about trash service in the city. Kruse said constituents raised concerns about inconsistent pickup across the city. The comments drew nods of agreement from other members of the Council.