Fort Smith approves raises for city employees

·3 min read
The Fort Smith Board of Directors met Nov. 4 to discuss the 2022 budget.
The Fort Smith Board of Directors met Nov. 4 to discuss the 2022 budget.

City of Fort Smith workers will see an average 4.7% raise as part of the 2022 budget passed Thursday night by the Board of Directors.

City Administrator Carl Geffken proposed the increase at a budget meeting earlier this month.

The hope is that a more competitive salary will encourage more candidates to apply to open positions as well as encourage people who already work for the city to stay.

"If you don’t value your employees and provide them the tools to do their job, the best you can hope to become is a training ground of employees who go on to work for other companies, nonprofits and cities, and that is not the goal of the city of Fort Smith," Geffken said. We value our employees, the work they do and we want to do our best to try to provide them the salary and benefits to stay employed with the city."

Director George Catsavis voted for the raise and said he thinks it will help with the retention issue.

“I think the employees, they deserve a raise," Catsavis said.

While the city is short on manpower, he thinks the raise will compel more people to continue working for the city.

"Hopefully people will stay if they’re getting paid better they’ll stay longer," Catsavis said.

Geffken said the city now has approximately 115 vacancies, including for two department heads. There are positions open in every city department.

“We do have vacancies, and it’s a difficult period of time to try to hire people," Geffken said.

Some of the vacancies stretch back to the beginning of the pandemic when the city put a freeze on hiring. That lasted until October 2020, but the city is still feeling its effects more than a year later.

On top of that, there have been multiple spikes in COVID cases since then, causing people to leave the workforce.

The city also has to compete with fierce competition when hiring for full-time positions.

According to a previous Times Record article, machine operator salaries at Rheem Manufacturing Co. and Mars Petcare start at $20 an hour.

“It’s like trying to juggle multiple balls and have two more thrown in, and you’re trying to adjust that," Geffken said.

These vacancies are why the city ordered a salary survey comparing Fort Smith's wages to the wages of other Arkansas cities.

At the Sept. 28 study session, Blair Johanson, president of the Johanson Group, presented a 2021 salary and benefits study to board members. The last study was done in 2019, and the last cost-of-living raise was 2018, which included a 2.5% adjustment.

"On a year-to-year basis, I don't think the city is keeping up with the market average on annual adjustments in pay based on the last six years," Johanson said in September.

It was at this meeting where the board began the discussion surrounding increasing employee pay.

“The board was really trying to think outside of the box to address our needs to be a competitive employer," Geffken said.

He said the city is also looking to pursue more aggressive hiring methods, attending more job fairs and advertising positions more widely.

He would also like to see more targeted ads as well as advertising to people out of state.

Alex Gladden is a University of Arkansas graduate. She previously reported for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and The Jonesboro Sun before joining the Times Record. She can be contacted at agladden@swtimes.com.

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Fort Smith approves raises for city workers

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