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Buckley relies on consultants as city rebuilds exhausted staff

Buckley is bleeding staff to bigger jurisdictions with deeper pockets, city leaders say, and will have to rely on its consultants as the city rebuilds its rosters amid a still-hot building and housing market .

The issue was raised at the April 26 city council meeting, which saw reports from a few key department heads in the city.

“We continue to bleed staff,” City Administrator Dave Schmidt told council, a sentiment shared by Mayor Beau Burkett.

The city has lost nine full-time employees in recent months, Schmidt said in an email, mostly in building, planning, public works, fire, and parks and recreation departments. (In total, the city is budgeted for the approximate equivalent of approximately 53 full-time employees, based on the final 2022 budget. This does not include seasonal employees.)

While there are a variety of reasons for departures, “the overriding factor is compensation,” he wrote: Two-thirds of employees who left were recruited by larger jurisdictions with salary increases and, in some cases, remote working options. This reflects a broader trend in local government, Schmidt said.

The situation means “it is a significant challenge to maintain” the city’s operations and level of service, Schmidt wrote.

Even without the staffing issues, the city has relied more on outside consultants to help manage its high volume of development in a timely manner, Schmidt said. Consultants like 4Leaf, Blueline Group and Sound Inspection Services are helping fill in the gaps left by departing employees, he said.

In the meantime, the planning department is delaying non-immediate or time-limited work, Schmidt wrote, and that may mean postponing projects such as updating the zoning code and application forms. Public Works and Parks will delay some maintenance work, though the return of four seasonal workers this year should help the city catch up, Schmidt said.

“We are in a situation where we have an enormous amount of work (of) enormous complexity,” construction and planning manager Emily Terrell said at the last meeting, and “unless a meteor giant hits’ economy, the city is on track to keep growing.

Marvin Sundstrom, the council’s perennial budget hawk, argues that the city is already paying employees more than enough.

In an email, Sundstrom said he wasn’t concerned with revenue: “I don’t see many employees whose contributions we will miss leaving. (And) revenue of 15% is healthy because it brings new ideas.

The council should have more control over the salaries of city employees, Sundstrom wrote. He also faulted the city administration for not selling the city better to potential and current employees, and for not fostering a culture that rewards initiative.

Sundstrom has repeatedly expressed these concerns at council meetings, although he is often the only council member to oppose the city’s wage and budget proposals. He was the only one to vote “no” in the April 12 vote to restructure the city’s salary grid.

Schmidt said the city hopes restructuring the salary grid will help attract new people.

The city is currently looking for two positions. Associate planner Evan Lewis left in late April to take a job at Federal Way, so Buckley wants to fill his job. The City also wishes to hire a temporary part-time planning assistant. Five other full-time jobs, covered by an employment contract, must be advertised internally before the City can recruit them externally.

Also on Tuesday, the board:

• Unanimous adoption of a file modifying the City’s annual global plan in order to update the method of calculating traffic impact charges. Adopting the record does not approve the amendment itself, but it does clear the way for the board to vote on that amendment at a later meeting.

• Unanimously agreed to an adjustment to move a boundary line, located between two single-family residential lots at 133 S Rainier St. and 1281 Main St, approximately seven feet north. The plaintiff is the owner of the Rainier Street property and has obtained approval from his neighbor on Main Street to request the change.

• Unanimously approved a lease agreement with Let’s Roll Buckley LLC to allow the company to lease an area adjacent to the Veterans Memorial for the rental and storage/recharging of bicycles and motorized bicycles.

• Approval of a memorandum of understanding between the city and the local union of operations engineers. The memo confirms that the union agrees with the changes made to the city’s salary scale at the last city council. All but Sundstrom approved the memo.

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