As Tooele City winds up for the 2019-20 budget process, the City Council reviewed projected increases to labor costs in the coming fiscal year.
Tooele City human resources director Kami Perkins presented on the topic of rising labor costs, with a possible $835,000 increase in the coming year, including salary and benefits, during last Wednesday’s City Council work session.
The proposals from Perkins included a flat 50 cent per hour increase for employees, instead of a flat percentage increase for COLA. The flat monetary increase would have a more significant increase on lower wage workers and a lessened impact on high wage workers.
No increase to the salary for elected officials is included in the proposed labor costs for the upcoming budget.
The flat 50 cent increase also moves the city closer to its goal of a $10.20 minimum wage for employee salaries by 2020. Perkins said the increase to the $10.20 wage would not include entry level rates for high school students or interns working in temporary or seasonal positions.
Perkins said there is a blue collar worker drought due to low unemployment, which can make recruitment and retention more difficult. The same challenges also affect public safety positions, she said.
“It makes it very difficult for us all to fill jobs,” Perkins said.
Other sources of increase include funding the new parks and recreation director position, filled by Darwin Cook, a new full-time human resources assistant, an additional police officer and higher costs associated with an officer that was previously funded by a grant and one on military deployment.
Perkins said medical insurance costs are expected to rise by 9.5% with the city’s current provider, PEHP Health and Benefits. The increase was less than other proposals from providers including United Healthcare and Select Health, which were more than 20% higher.
With cost-of-living adjustments and rising insurance premiums, Perkins said the city should plan for annual labor cost increases of about $300,000 to $400,000 each year.
The average staff count at the city has grown along with the rising population in Tooele City, with the average staff count at 75 plus the volunteer fire department in 1998 increasing to 255 plus the fire department by 2018, according to Perkins.
“The growth is fabulous, we’re all feeling it,” she said. “But the growth is also impacting our ability to get work done and not burning out some of our important areas.”
While discussing police hiring needs, Tooele City Police Chief Ron Kirby said the department is requesting two additional officers, though one could be a school resource officer. The school district pays about 75% of the compensation for SROs through its agreement with the police department.
The preview of rising labor costs is a preliminary step in the city’s budget process, which is already well underway by city staff. On May 1, Tooele City Mayor Debbie Winn will present a tentative budget, which will be reviewed by the City Council prior to final approval.
Last August, the City Council approved an 82% property tax rate increase, which included additional funds for hiring police officers and the now under construction police station on Garden Street. The final increase was less than the 115% originally proposed, including concessions to 401K matches by the city (from a proposed 3% to 2%.)