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A proposed 9% pay raise should be implemented to keep Joplin city employees’ pay competitive with that offered by regional employers.

City Manager Nick Edwards told the Joplin City Council that it will cost $1.1 million to provide that pay hike. The boost is intended to push up pay scales overall after a recent pay study suggested 41 of 43 city jobs were underpaid compared with regional cities in Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas.

Joplin doesn’t just compete for employees with smaller area towns and cities such as Carthage, Lamar or Pittsburg, Kansas.

Our city serves as a shopping, health care and employment hub for our area, which makes us more akin to larger communities that are regional hubs, such as Springfield or Bentonville, Arkansas. Valuable candidates for Joplin city employment can look to those cities as well as area businesses and industries as potential employers.

That means first that the city has to be able to provide adequate incentive for current employees to remain on the job. After all, case studies show that an employer has to spend the equivalent of about 20 percent of a worker’s salary to find and hire a replacement.

The city must also present a competitive opportunity to potential workers. It has vacancies to fill in a number of areas.

Edwards has cited pay as an obstacle to attracting and retaining the number of needed workers in several key departments, including public works, police, fire and public transportation. Public works, for example, has 143 positions and currently has about 25 openings. David Hertzberg, public works director, said, “The correction of payroll will be a big help to get positions filled.”

Implementing the plan in the coming fiscal year seems opportune given the improved financial picture after the city paid off some debt early and voters earlier approved a sales tax that resolves what had been a required recurring infusion of money from the general fund to maintain the city’s public safety pension plan.

The one word of caution is that the City Council must ensure the downturn because of COVID-19 isn’t too steep to support the needed change.

City employees should be paid enough to ensure that residents have good workers who are likely to remain on the job once trained.

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