Many people who left the workforce last year have yet to return, and millions more have left in recent months, spurning higher wages, signing bonuses and other perks employers have dangled to attract workers in a tight labor market.
The mass exodus has been called the Great Resignation, a phenomenon the city hopes to mitigate through initiatives the Hot Springs Board of Directors adopted last week.
In addition to the $1,200 in premium pay for the city's more than 600 full-time employees, the board approved an updated longevity and retention compensation plan. According to the request for board action, the former's cost of $745,000 plus taxes and benefits will be paid from the city's $11.37 million America Rescue Plan Act allocation, the biggest expense drawn against the allocation to date. It included a $600 bonus for the city's part-time employees and will be disbursed with payroll checks for the pay period ending Friday.
The city said the first year of the updated longevity and retention plan will cost $610,000 plus taxes and benefits, a $428,000 increase from the 2021 cost of the previous plan. The $2.50 per month the previous plan paid for each year of service in excess of one year had been in place since the plan was adopted in 1973. It was amended in 1996 to increase the annual maximum payment from $600 to $900, which employees qualified for after 30 years of service.
The new plan will pay employees with 20 or more years of service $2,000 a year. Employees with 15 to 19 years of service will receive $1,500 a year, and those with six to 14 years will receive $1,000 a year. A $500 annual bonus will be paid to employees with one to five years of longevity.
The draft plan presented to the board last month proposed a $2,500 payment after the first five years of service. Police Chief Chris Chapmond suggested paying a portion of the years one-to-five incentive after each year of the five-year period, telling the board that an annual payment would be more effective.
Increasing public safety resources was one of six goals the board said should inform the city's 2022 budget, but the 110 uniformed positions in the police fund's 2021 budget weren't added to in next year's budget. The city said earlier this year that adding uniformed positions wasn't feasible, given the difficulty the police department has had filling its budgeted positions.
The city said increasing the signing bonus for new officers from $2,500 to $5,000 has had a negligible effect on recruiting new hires, as other municipal law enforcement agencies in the state are paying signing bonuses twice that amount. The city's human resources department said new officers receive a starting salary of $41,808.
Payment of the new retention bonuses will begin next year, awarded in a lump sum with the first paycheck of next November. Payments will be based on years of service reached at the end of the prior year and will include a $500 anniversary bonus after every five years of service.
The $138.4 million 2022 budget the board adopted funded 644 full-time positions. It included a 3.25% cost-of-living adjustment for nonuniformed employees whose compensation isn't based on the city's 16-step pay table. Nonuniformed employees on the pay table were moved up a step, increasing their pay 3%, and entry level compensation was increased 0.25%. Raising the pay table a quarter of a percent and moving employees up a step will give employees on the pay table a 3.25% raise.
"There were provisions in the budget that I think will be very positive in enabling us to recruit and retain a good workforce for the city," Finance Director Dorethea Yates told the board. "I think I speak on behalf of all staff when I say we appreciate you guys supporting those provisions."