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Staffing Issues Spread to Iowa's Local Governments


Tuesday, June 7, 2022   

Local governments in Iowa say they're not immune to hiring challenges seen in the private sector, which is prompting municipalities to rethink how they can attract people to take on roles centered around public service.

Alan Kemp, executive director of the Iowa League of Cities, said it has been harder for local governments to fill open positions for administrative leads, police departments, and temporary jobs such as a lifeguard at the city pool. And he noted jobs such as wastewater operators face a wave of retirements without a younger group of workers to take over.

Kemp pointed out when possible, cities are trying to offer more flexibility in a competitive hiring environment.

"Waste collectors can't work remotely, but I think, more and more, they're having to begin to look at whether or not we need to do that," Kemp stated. "So, in other words, if you got like a deputy clerk or a utility billing clerk, do I need that individual to be in the office? Probably not."

He acknowledged it is a big shift for municipalities, because things like residency requirements always kept hiring local. But he noted some are casting a wider net for jobs that can be done remotely. Some are asking if teenagers can be hired for certain tasks traditionally done by adults. A recent national survey found 52% of state and local government workers were considering quitting.

Barb Barrick, clerk and treasurer for the City of Atlantic, said they have faced turnover issues with their police force. She added a big problem right now is finding enough lifeguards, creating the possibility of reduced hours at the city pool this summer. Atlantic raised wages and added hiring bonuses for the jobs, but the competition for workers is fierce.

"Fast-food restaurants have had to raise their wages to attract employees," Barrick observed. "But we cannot raise them to match what they're making it fast-food restaurants or at Walmart."

The League and other local leaders say it is important for the public to remember public roles allow a person to serve people they routinely see in their community.

John Haila, mayor of Ames, who cited similar hiring issues for seasonal jobs, suggested long-term positions in municipal government do not encounter as much volatility when the economy shifts.

"Between the salaries and benefits, relative stability for a staff member, I think that would be some definite benefits," Haila remarked.

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