The city of Alcoa will be weathering two coming years of personnel turnover as officials announced key positions, including the city manager’s, will be replaced within a year.
During a fiscal 2020 budget workshop Friday, city officials discussed impending shifts in their human resources department, emphasizing a need for finding methods to retain employees and update employee technology.
Part of Director of Human Resources Melissa Thompson’s presentation included announcements about positions to be vacated within the next year. Foremost among these are Alcoa government veteran, City Manager Mark Johnson.
He is set to retire before June of 2020.
Pending a commission vote, Johnson may be replaced by Assistant City Manager Andy Sonner, who has been with the city since 1997. Though this position change is not set in stone, Sonner has been working closely with Johnson since last July.
Johnson — who started with the city in 1999 — has guided a number of instrumental changes in his time, including relocating the municipal building and creating the Alcoa Service Center. “Getting the West Plant to where it is,” was a significant accomplishment, he added. “I’ve been working on that literally since the day I got here.”
He said that his work developing Springbrook Farm on the former Alcoa West Plant site also will be one of his top priorities for the upcoming year. Road construction leading to and improving traffic in the planned development area has been in the works since before Johnson started.
“That was one of the early concepts when I first got here. I was hoping to see that through,” he said.
Outside of development, Johnson hopes to bring significant technological changes before his exit. During a presentation at the workshop, Johnson emphasized the need for significant software upgrades for the city, especially as it relates to human resource, payroll, and time and attendance.
Once he leaves Alcoa government, Johnson said he’s interested in helping out where he can.
“Right now (the commission) is not in any hurry to see me go. ... Even if I do officially retire, there’s some interest on the part of the commission and the West Plant developers for me to hang around part time ... to help see that project through.”
Johnson will leave the position with a total of 20 years with Alcoa and 45 years of experience in city management, presentation notes for the meeting show.
Public Services Director Kenny Wiggins is also expected to retire before June of 2020. He has served with the city for more than 29 years and would leave on a large money-saving project in the electric department.
Wiggins is currently organizing an effort to contract with engineers to design a voltage-reduction program to reduce peak usage and fees during the city’s highest usages, especially during the summer and winter months.
Thompson also announced the retirement of other significant positions, including a construction services manager, an accounts payable tech and the city’s payroll specialist.
A total of 11 people plan to retire by June 2020, but the city will lose a total of 165-plus years of experience between only six positions highlighted during the meeting.
Job postings for some of these positions already are online.
Furthermore, nearly 50 Alcoa personnel positions ranging from administration to streets and water positions will be eligible for retirement through June 2021. The city employed a total of 281 people in 2018, the highest in more than a decade, notes from the meetings state.
Officials admitted employee turnover is a continuing issue for the city. It is currently facing recruiting challenges and is struggling against a tide of retirement and shifting job conditions that are altering the work environment countywide.
Thompson said the availability of other jobs and more competitive wages are two of the largest factors contributing to the issue. “What we’re seeing is a lower number of applicants,” she said in an interview.
The average number of applicants who apply for open positions has been cut in half over the past five years. From 2014-17, the city received an average 98 applications per position. Currently, it receives only 44.
From January 2018 to May 2019, the city suffered a total of 23 personnel losses, including 10 retirements, 10 voluntary separations and 10 involuntary separations. In the same period of time, the city hired a total of 36 people. The police and fire departments saw the largest staff upticks with nine hires each in the past year.
The city is trying to stem the loss of positions by doing its own compensation research. McGrath Human Resources Group is in the early stages of a study to examine the competitiveness of Alcoa’s wages.
“Our pay philosophy is that about every four or five years we do a compensation study just to make sure we’re where we need to be,” Thompson said. “So it was time to do one anyway.”
Thompson said providing training and a “good work environment” and understanding how pay needs are met are some of the main ways the city plans to combat employee losses.
The impact of turnover in the fire, electric, police and public works departments in 2018 cost the city $377,485, including mandatory training, a budget presentation showed.
With a concentrated focus on technology replacement, employee retention and maintaining health care costs in fiscal 2020, Alcoa is set to bring its budget to vote this June.
Maryville, which held its budget retreat a week before Alcoa, expressed similar personnel needs and is taking similar steps to asses an aging workforce and a competitive market.
Sonner said in an interview that cities had to work together to address overlapping issues.
“We’re all community,” he said. “Just because something may go in Maryville and not in Alcoa, doesn’t mean it’s not good for the community. You’ve got to look after your citizens.”