City council reviews staffing levels and compensation

City Manager Scott Hugill (middle right) speaks to the Mountlake Terrace City Council via Zoom Thursday night.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council discussed city staffing levels and compensation at its June 2 work/study session.

City Manager Scott Hugill noted that the total number of city employee hours dropped off in response to the recession in 2008 as “we started leaving positions vacant so that we didn’t fall behind in our expenses not matching revenues.”

City of Mountlake Terrace total employee hours over time

Many of the staffing adjustments made over the years to reduce costs have been to administrative, clerical, maintenance and operations positions.

Several of the administrative and clerical positions eliminated over time have not been brought back “and we essentially spread those duties out to the police station and community and economic development,” Hugill said.

Total maintenance and operations hours dropped in 2014. “We had some employees leave, we didn’t fill some parks maintenance positions and other positions because we were in a bit of a budget bind,” he noted. “We’ve started bringing those numbers back and by the end of 2022 you’ll see that those numbers are quite a bit higher due to bringing on additional maintenance employees and the utilities in particular.”

In addition, some police positions were left open during the recession and a few of the city’s officers will soon be retiring. Hugill said, “We’ve done some advance recruitment so by the end of 2022 you will see a much higher number of hours worked.”

City of Mountlake Terrace total employee hours worked over time by category

Two proposed labor agreements were reviewed, and the council will vote on those as part of its consent calendar during Monday night’s regular business meeting.

One is a collective bargaining agreement with Teamsters Local 763 union that represents employees who work in positions of police support, finance, public works maintenance, and parks and facilities maintenance.

The city’s most recent labor contract with the union expired at the end of 2021. Since last fall, the two parties have been negotiating a replacement contract and recently reached a tentative agreement for one covering 2022-2024 that the labor union formally ratified last month.

Under state law, public employers negotiating with unions must “consider a comparison of the wages, hours, and conditions of employment of personnel” in public employers of similar size.

Comparable employers to Mountlake Terrace in Western Washington are cities with a population, assessed valuation and general government revenues within 50-150% of the city’s demographics. Those include Arlington, Lake Forest Park, Lake Stevens, Mill Creek, Monroe, Mukilteo and Oak Harbor.

The proposed contract with the Teamsters would provide for wage increases of 3.5% in 2022 and 3% in 2023 and 2024. It would also include Juneteenth as a holiday and a signing bonus of $500.

Costs of Teamsters #763 salary increases under the 2022-2024 collective bargaining agreement

Costs of the salary increases would be spread across several of the City of Mountlake Terrace’s funds including its general, street, recreation and utility funds.

Hugill told the council that when factoring those increased costs into the city’s six-year financial forecast: “We are still well-balanced and can afford this.” He noted the six-year financial forecast includes an approximately 3% increase projected for each year “and although we’ve had to go a bit higher in this first year to match our comparables we can still accommodate it.”

The second proposed labor agreement the council reviewed is with the Mountlake Terrace Police Guild that represents the city’s sergeants and police officers. The city’s most recent labor contract with the guild expired at the end of 2021. Since last fall, the two parties have been negotiating a replacement contract and recently reached a tentative agreement for one covering 2022-2024 that the police guild formally ratified last month.

Similar to its agreement with the Teamsters union, the city is required to bargain with the guild over wages, hours, and working conditions for those staff while also considering those factors in comparable cities.

The proposed contract with the police guild would provide for wage increases of 5% in 2022 and 4% in 2023 and 2024. It would also include Juneteenth as a holiday and a take-home vehicle for the on-call detective.

Costs of Mountlake Terrace Police Guild salary increases under the 2022-2024 collective bargaining agreement

Costs of the salary increases would be covered by the City of Mountlake Terrace’s general fund and “will be funded by the new construction that’s going on here and the property taxes,” Hugill said, adding that the city’s six-year financial forecast “is able to afford” the increased costs under the proposed contract.

Recreation and Parks Director Jeff Betz briefed the council on a state grant program to help address the ongoing staffing shortages in licensed child care programs.

The Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) has advertised a Child Care Stabilization Grant to assist with funding child care staffing costs and augmenting existing staffing levels through a recruitment and retention program.

Betz noted that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an ongoing issue nationwide in which many parents don’t have child care due to child care facilities closing down and/or the lack of staffing at such facilities. In addition, child care staff across the U.S. are often paid lower wages that are typically close to minimum wage and many of those positions require that employees have additional education.

The Recreation Pavilion’s Kids Krew Child Care programs have also experienced staffing issues and “each child care facility that applies for this grant program will receive the funding,” Betz told the council. “It’s not a selection process, if you apply for it you get it as long as you’re a licensed child care facility, which is what we are.”

The DCYF child care grant money, along with a separate workforce grant and city funding, would be used to recruit new employees and also for retention efforts for existing child care staffing expenses by distributing some of the funds to child care employees. Total costs for the City of Mountlake Terrace would be nearly $113,000, although the city could also use some of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to cover those costs.

Costs by program and revenue sources for proposed employee recruitment and retention efforts

Licensed child care staff would be compensated with the retention bonuses, based on their hours worked, on a quarterly basis for one year as the grant funds must be paid out by July 2023.

The quarterly amounts paid to staff would be $2,250 per full-time employee, $1,688 per three-quarter-time employee, $1,125 per half-time employee, and $855 per part-time non-benefitted employee. And additional one-time bonuses would be paid to employees based on their years of service. Staff who have obtained three years of service would receive an extra $300, those with five years of service would be paid $500 and employees with 10 years of service would receive $1,000.

Betz said there would be additional city guidelines “to ensure that this program would be effective.” It would require that employees are on the payroll for two consecutive full pay cycles, work at least five hours per week, and seasonal or temporary staff would not receive the extra compensation. “The idea is that we’re able to attract staff and retain them,” he added.

Proposed employee retention compensation based on hours worked and years of service

In addition to its child care staff, the city’s retention bonus program would also cover hourly staff in aquatics, athletics and support positions so that employees don’t move to child care and then create vacancies in other recreation program areas.

“Those are areas that we’re actually experiencing quite a bit of need as well,” Betz noted, adding that the staff could be compensated through the same payment structure by using city ARPA funds. He described the employees in those divisions as “all of our frontline staff in recreation and many make minimum wage or just above minimum wage,” and “this action would help attract and also compensate our existing staff” in those areas.

Several of the councilmembers voiced support for applying for the limited-term grant funding, noting that it’s “free money.” But they added that the city needs to also consider what happens after the grant program ends next year and discuss ways, including possibly re-evaluating the hourly wage schedule, to make those employee recruitment and retention efforts sustainable moving forward.

The city must apply for the child care grant program by June 30, and the council will vote at Monday night’s meeting on an authorization directing city staff to apply for the funding.

Finally, Hugill reviewed staffing levels and compensation for the city’s full-time non-union positions. He noted that in a recent comparison of wages with comparable cities, the high salary paid for several of Mountlake Terrace’s positions — many of which are senior positions across a range of departments — “is below the average of those comparable cities.”

Asterisks indicate that the high salary paid for those positions by the City of Mountlake Terrace is below the average of comparable cities.

He asked councilmembers for the flexibility to bring them a recommendation in the future “that would take the majority of positions of directors, managers and supervisors and increase them between 7.5% and 10%.” It would also adjust the pay classification ranges for the senior planner and associate planner positions to increase their wages as doing so would particularly help with recruitment efforts for planners and engineers.

“To be able to recruit and retain, I would ask that you enable us to put together a proposal for you that would increase the wages of a majority of these non-union employees” Hugill added.

Several councilmembers said they were supportive of the idea, that the city’s staffing challenges as a whole need to be holistically addressed and they looked forward to having future discussions about the issue.

The city council will hold its next regular business meeting Monday, June 6 at 7 p.m. It will include a discussion on the use of ARPA funds. See the agenda and information for watching/participating online here.

— By Nathan Blackwell

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