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City of San Antonio hopes higher salary will attract applicants

City officials believe higher salaries will help fill dozens of positions at San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health Department, which has been plagued by staffing shortages while at the forefront of the city’s response to COVID-19 over the past two years.

The city plans to raise its entry-level wage from $15.60 to $17.50 an hour as part of a budget proposal recently presented to city council as the pandemic stretches into a third year and as the health department deals with the spread of monkeypox. Civil servants hiked the starting salary to $15.60 last summer, thinking they would get ahead. But rising inflation reduced last year’s increase and private sector employers raised wages.

It has become increasingly difficult for the city to fill its vacancies, especially in the medical field.

At the end of July, Metro Health had 90 vacancies, a vacancy rate of 16%, well above the city’s 9.6% rate.

Public health outreach workers are among a smaller handful in the city who are expected to receive a bigger pay raise than others due to falling behind market pay. A recent job posting for a community health worker lists an hourly wage of $16.90, lower than the new projected starting salary of $17.50 proposed in the budget.

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City leaders hope the better starting salary and increases in the proposed budget will attract new workers to fill vacancies as much as keep existing employees on the job.

The changes come as part of an expansion of Metro Health. Its budget could increase 37.8% in the next fiscal year as officials rely less on federal grants and fund the health department with more local dollars.

There are 644 Metro Health positions in the proposed budget, up from 512 last year. Nearly 80% of the 132 new jobs make recently hired temporary employees permanent, a spokeswoman said.

Metro Health wasn’t the only city department struggling to recruit. San Antonio is seeing fewer applications for each job posting than officials have received in the past, said Renee Frieda, director of human resources. The city must recruit more than before and find strong candidates more quickly.

Vacancies cover all city departments, Frieda said, but there is a particular need for animal protection officers, park and airport police, electricians, plumbers and health workers. community.

This year, more city employees quit their jobs than at any time in the past six years, City Manager Erik Walsh said.

“I have a son who works for the biggest grocery store in town, picking up carts and bagging groceries,” Walsh said. “And he earns more there than a lot of city workers at that level.”

San Antonio hadn’t studied its salary structure since 2008, and the first study in 14 years showed the city needed to make big changes to its employees. The proposed new city budget includes a higher starting salary and a minimum wage increase of 7% for just about everyone.

“When someone walks out the door because they can get a little more money somewhere else, we lose experience and we lose that dedication,” Walsh said.

City council members also complained about the loss of homeless outreach coordinators, saying their morale was low and they weren’t paid enough for the hard work. The city employs a street outreach team in each of the council’s 10 districts – at least three districts have recently lost staff.

“We won’t have a Homeless Convenience Connector because he’s found a better paying job,” said District 3 Councilor Phyllis Viagran, who represents the South Side. “This is unacceptable.”

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The budget includes a 5% salary increase for all civilian and non-public safety employees. On top of that, city workers will see a “market adjustment” of 2-7%. Still, 244 employees will get a more than 7% increase in the market rate because they are so far behind.

Federal data shows San Antonio lags other cities in filling vacancies.

The city’s overall vacancy rate is down from the high vacancy rate of 15% at the height of the pandemic, when the city was freezing hiring and not replacing outgoing employees. But that’s still double San Antonio’s rate in March 2020 before COVID-19 hit.

In June, state and local governments across the country saw a vacancy rate of 5.7%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In June 2021, the rate was just 4.6% in state and local governments. Both are well below San Antonio’s pre-pandemic rate.

In a survey, city employees indicated they needed help, Walsh said.

The next fiscal year begins October 1. For the increases to take effect, the city council must pass the budget, scheduled for a vote on September 15.

When asked if he was worried about vacancies impacting the delivery of municipal services, Walsh said that was his biggest concern.

“I worry about a lot of things in this job. The one thing that worries me the most is making sure that we keep those positions filled in those departments,” Walsh said. “Beyond anything else.”

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