DUNEDIN — For more than four hours on Feb. 16, city commissioners discussed with consultants and staff strategies for retaining city employees, as well as other issues arising amid a competitive labor market.

And there's more work to be done.

Some policies and work hours need be changed to be more responsive to the labor market, City Manager Jennifer Bramley told commissioners as they reviewed salary and staffing plans. By consensus, commissioners agreed to give employees 3% raises in March.

Bramley said the interim action is an "innovative reset" to put a new pay plan in place.

"I'm enthusiastic about it as to how to approach it as a market and then work individually, have the time to slot the employees and explain to them how they are being slotted," she said.

Staff's recommendations include aligning a new pay structure with the job market and adopting a job classification system. 

Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said city officials are committed to helping employees through changes in the pay structure, and the immediate interim step gives "everybody something." 

Commissioner Moe Freaney asked what the critical areas are in which city officials are "bleeding," noting that some employees leave before completing a year in their positions.

"So they are coming, and they are leaving, and that tells me we are not getting people into the (salary) range fast enough," Freaney said. "First of all, not high enough at the minimum."

She said the commission needs to see the critical areas where employees are leaving.

City Human Resources and Risk Management Director Theresa Smalling said public services has about seven vacancies.

"And that's where a lot of people took the job, stayed for a little while, left — mostly younger people," she said.

The reason for the turnover is a combination of issues, she said, such as starting salaries. 

There is a deficit in the market for people altogether who are willing to take the jobs the city has, Smalling said.

Alan Pennington, vice president of Matrix Consulting Group, said his company was asked to look at the organizational structure and related issues regarding city services.

In public works, there is a need to have a greater focus on preventative maintenance, Pennington said.

"Whether it's fleet maintenance, street maintenance, facility maintenance. Whatever infrastructure maintenance you are doing, it needs to be defined and proactive. It can't be reactive. I think that's a real problem," he said.

He said a recommendation is provided to implement over time a program that allows staff to track work orders and ensure preventive maintenance is being done appropriately. 

Pennington added that when city officials implement an asset management program that consultants are recommending, they will find additional staffing issues that haven't been addressed.

Among their recommendations, staff suggests the city adopt a new hourly minimum wage of $15 and adjust the base pay of any employees below the new minimum.

"There is a state mandate that the minimum wage should be $15 as of 2026. However, a lot of our neighboring cities have already adopted the $15," Smalling said. "So that's something we will be looking at the near future."

City memos say staff will bring all proposed salary adjustments along with any position requests and other recommended benefit enhancements for the commission's consideration during this year’s fiscal year 2024 budget process, with a proposed effective date of Oct. 1.

Toward the end of the discussion, Bramley said that city officials will do some more work and bring back their recommendations to commissioners.

She also said the city isn't in an urgent situation.

"We are continuing to deliver the level of service to our customers," she said. "But the fact is the impact on our employees is becoming more and more relevant."


Code enforcement 'reactive'

Pennington said his firm doesn't believe staff is being proactive enough on property maintenance issues.

The firm have recommended one additional position in code enforcement for existing needs.

"We think that would allow you to be much more proactive addressing things rather than on a complaint basis," he said. "So you are out there looking to address things before you are getting the citizens' complaints. That is the better approach to take with that."

Commissioner John Tornga asked what drew the consultants to say an additional position is needed.

Pennington said it was based on the number of complaints each officer is handling and that the program was reactive.

In many cases, the response times were still good, he said.

"But it was entirely reactive," Pennington said. "In general, especially for communities that are fully built out, this is an area where workload will increase over time rather than decrease because as buildings get older the expectations for maintenance change and it becomes more difficult."

Being more proactive allows staff to get ahead of the curve, he said.

"It allows you to address an entire neighborhood at once rather than just a person whose property was complained about," Pennington said.

Pennington said getting more consistent enforcement out in the neighborhoods across the board is more systematic.

"It doesn't feel like individuals are being singled out," Pennington said.

Bramley said that a law that came into effect in July, stipulating that code enforcement complaints can no longer be reported anonymously, the number of reports regarding violations has declined dramatically.

"So that necessitates us going out into the field a lot more to enforce the code," she said.