City and county eye labor shortages as they prepare to set '22 wages

·2 min read

Oct. 14—MANKATO — As with other employers, local government leaders are a bit nervous about how applicants will step up to fill city and county job vacancies.

For full-time year-round jobs, Mankato remains competitive in what it can offer to applicants who may also have employment options with other government agencies or in the private sector, according to a recently completed compensation study.

"The good news is, generally speaking, our wages are right in market," said City Manager Susan Arntz during a meeting Thursday of the Mankato-Blue Earth County Intergovernmental Committee.

The biggest problem has been finding willing workers to do the park and landscaping jobs, traditionally filled by high school and college students working for close to minimum wage during the summer.

"With some of our seasonal workers, that was a challenge this year," Mankato City Council member Jessica Hatanpa said.

Filling those seasonal jobs was also an issue for Blue Earth County, said County Administrator Bob Meyer. But that's been true, as well, when seeking staff for certain full-time positions that offer higher wages and benefits.

"Our correctional officers in the jail have been kind of a recurring issue for a number of years," Meyer said.

In other cases, government jobs continue to be attractive. One recent county vacancy attracted roughly 100 applicants.

Both the city and the county are in the midst of negotiating contracts with union representatives even as they feel pressure to limit property tax increases, particularly as the tax base shifts toward residential properties and makes any levy hikes more painful for owners of homes and apartment buildings.

Mankato's preliminary budget anticipates annual pay increases of 2.5-3%, Arntz said.

Just two of eight contracts with county labor groups carry beyond this year, leaving six to be negotiated this fall. The county is seeking to keep salary increases at the same percentage mentioned by Arntz, but higher increases might be required for the lower-wage county jobs filled by people who suddenly see more private-sector options offering above-minimum wages.

"The lower end of our wage scale is moving, so we need to move as well," Meyer said.

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