KNOXVILLE — A survey said Knoxville lags peer cities when it comes to wages and benefits for its employees. The council is looking to do something about it.

Pay increases to city employees may be on the way soon, as members of the Knoxville City Council digested the results of a study conducted by the Austin Peters Group. The study went in to both employee classification changes and salaries, using survey results from other similar communities in Iowa.

The results of the study were that Knoxville’s wages weren’t competitive. The town is behind other communities when it comes to base wages for positions, and also the amount the city contributes toward employee health insurance plans and other benefits.

The council did not take formal action, as the item was only for discussion and review on Monday. The question to the council was how aggressive they want to be.

The council was presented with four options: implement recommended changes all at once, over a two year time frame, over 2.5 years, or another formula.

About $85,000 in increases were already planned for the upcoming fiscal year, so city staff recommended what was considered as the hybrid option. The option would require the council authorizing another $23,000 for the upcoming fiscal year. If approved, the option involves implementing pay increases in a stair-step fashion on July 1, Jan. 1, 2022 and July 1, 2022.

“I feel like it is important to move forward with [the survey’s] findings, because the longer we wait to implement it, the further behind we will be,” said interim city manger Heather Ussery. “Option three has the least impact going forward.”

The option seemed to be favored by several council members.

According to the survey, most positions were considered to be underpaid when matched against cities in Knoxville’s peer group by varying degrees.

Department heads told the council they are losing people to other towns for multiple reasons. Pay being one, but also residency issues.

“Since I’ve been here in three years, we’ve probably lost six or seven,” Knoxville Fire Chief Cal Wyman said. “They come in, they get their training, they get their certification, and they’re gone.”

Even with increasing wages, Knoxville will be behind in some areas. At the fire department, the new wages would still be about $5 per hour less than what nearby Indianola has as starting wages for firefighter/paramedic positions.

Knoxville Police Chief Aaron Adams said the police department in Carlisle is offering a $10,000 hiring bonus for incoming officers that are already are certified, and a $2,000 per year stipend benefit for residency.

“If we’re going to have to start competing with places like Carlisle, and even potentially smaller towns or the metro, that’s going to be an issue for us,” Adams said. He added a recent hiring period the department had to start over because they couldn’t find candidates that fit the position.

Library director Roslin Thompson told the council her department struggles because they currently pay less than local places like Hy-Vee and Walmart.

In other action:

— The council gave their blessing for starting a request for proposal to assess potential improvements at city parks. Currently there is $24,000 in the park’s trust fund account, which would be used to fund the process. The RFP would help layout a parks and recreation master plan to make improvements. The need for improvements was identified during a recent goal-setting session with Iowa State University, and by members of the city’s quality of life committee.

— The West Pleasant Urban Renewal Plan was amended as part of the joint county and city efforts to redevelopment the former Knoxville Veterans Affairs Hospital site. The plan was initially developed to help get local control of the campus, which has since occurred.

— New uniforms at the Knoxville Fire Department were approved, in a continuation of transitioning the department from a volunteer department to a paid professional fire department. A professional uniform consisting of a button up shirt with department patches and logos will become the new uniform. A total of $9,047.82 will be spent to purchase uniforms from the department’s memorial money.

— The council heard a proposal to create a new department for community and economic development, but didn’t take action on the proposal.

Kyle Ocker is the editor of the Oskaloosa Herald and the Ottumwa Courier. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.

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Kyle Ocker is a Centerville native and award-winning multimedia journalist. Kyle is currently the president of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and vice president of the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association.

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