Soldotna City Hall is seen on Wednesday, June 23, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna City Hall is seen on Wednesday, June 23, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna moves ahead with staff recruitment strategies

Soldotna City Council members last week gave city administration a thumbs up to move forward with new strategies meant to make it easier for the city to attract and retain employees.

The legislation is the product of a work session held last month with city council members, city administration, an independent firm and Dan Robinson, a researcher with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen explained during that work session that the city is experiencing longer than usual recruitment lengths.

Among the initiatives described in the resolution passed last week are hiring bonuses, relocation expense assistance, an employee referral program, paid parental leave and increasing the city’s contribution toward employee health insurance premiums.

“It is in the best interest of the residents of the City of Soldotna that the Council support additional programs which will better position the City in its attraction, hiring, and retention efforts,” the resolution says.

The implementation of the initiatives described in the resolution would, in many instances, require further action by the city or by city council members. That action may include amending sections of Soldotna Municipal Code and including new programs in the city’s upcoming biennial operating budget.

In analyzing what would be needed to implement various initiatives, the City of Soldotna worked with Mila Cosgrove of Workplace Solutions, a firm that offers services designed to build “organizational effectiveness,” according to the firm’s website.

The most expensive program to implement would be implementing a matching contribution from the City of Soldotna to employee’s deferred compensation plan. The estimated cost of doing that, the city estimates, would be between $140,000 and $220,000 and would need to be added to the city’s budget.

That’s compared to smaller initiatives like an employee referral program, which would offer a cash bonus to city employees who refer a successful new hire to the city for a vacant position. An employee referral program, the city estimates, would cost less than $5,000 and require the addition of the program to city code.

Queen wrote in a March 15 memo to council members that she thinks the set of recommendations presented are “achievable, and necessary.”

“It is critical that the City consider new strategies to remain competitive in attracting and retaining a talented workforce,” Queen wrote. “Our success will have a significant impact on our ability to meet the Council and public’s expectations for delivering high quality municipal services now and in the future.”

Council member Jordan Chilson during Wednesday’s meeting suggested that the city look into making Social Security available to employees, which Queen said the city opted out of in 1979.

“As an employer that does not participate in Social Security, I feel like there is a valid barrier for those that are considering working here that if they come, they’re going to lose out on their Social Security benefit,” Chilson said.

Council member Dave Carey said he supports the city further analyzing the initiatives and said it should keep its eye on efforts in the Alaska Legislature to revive a defined benefit plan for public employees.

“I support this very, very much,” Carey said. “It’s proactive and we need it. It’s going to be the challenge of the future for employment — holding onto people.”

Wednesday’s meeting of the Soldotna City Council can be streamed on the city’s website at soldotna.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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