Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

As the City of Missoula dices its way through its new budget, it will likely set aside funding to provide larger cost-of-living increases this year and to launch a new pay plan in an effort to ensure all employees move closer to market-rate wages.

Angela Simonson, the city's chief human resources officer, said doing so is essential if the city hopes to recruit and retain quality employees and ensure an equitable work environment.

“We cannot continue to provide the level of service we provide at the city without retaining staff and recruiting talent to fill positions when they become vacant,” Simonson said. “Pay is a huge piece of the puzzle to that.”

The city currently employs 922 people, including 339 union workers and 583 non-union. The latter represents both full- and part-time employees, seasonal hires and temporary positions.

Last year, Simonson said, the city had 151 job postings and netted 1,450 applications. That amounts to just 10 applications per job – well below what the city had hoped for. Like most employers have found, it's not easy to get new workers.

“Recruiting continues to be a challenge,” Simonson said. “We continue to struggle with both the quantity and quality of our applications. But we had very few if any failed-to-fill positions.”

To close the gap, the city will consider a 3.49% increase in its personnel budget for a cost-of-living adjustment and $681,000 to implement a new pay plan for non-union workers and classified staff.

Simonson said the request is necessary to help the city recruit and retain workers and to align with its new resolution on justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. The old pay plan created inequities and didn't compete with the market.

“We'd see new hires in recent years not be willing to accept positions at the entry wage, so managers would have to hire them above that, and in turn, it created inequities by trying to be competitive through our process,” Simonson said.

Among other things, Simonson said, the new pay plan will ensure positions are properly classified. It also establishes rules for setting the pay for new hires to ensure the city is competitive with the wages it can offer.

The new pay plan also outlines rules for pay progression.

“We're trying to ensure all positions have classifications tied to market rate,” she said. “It ensures we can continue to be competitive. It's not just our lowest paid positions we have a hard time recruiting in. We've worked hard to ensure all our rates are tied to market.”

The city will also adjust its cost-of-living increases this year to lift lower-level workers. In the past, the city offered a flat 3% COLA increase but realized it provided a greater amount to higher-paid workers.

This year, Simonson said, those in lower-classified jobs will receive a COLA increase of $1.25 per hour while those in higher classifications will receive $1 per hour.

Simonson added that outside consultants also recommended the city increase funding for its Health Plan to keep it solvent. The city paid $9.4 million in claims in FY 22, or 6% more than the prior year. However, large claims fell by 16% for a cost of $1.5 million.

Added up and the city is proposing a 5.2% increase in its Health Plan.

“How this will alter premium costs for staff is still being determined at the administrative level,” she said.

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