Fairbanks City Hall

The Patrick B. Cole City Hall is seen Wednesday, June 17, 2020, in downtown Fairbanks. Caitlin Miller/News-Miner

City officials are crafting a bonus program to address struggles to hire and keep employees.

The Fairbanks Finance Committee discussed the Employee Capital Incentive Program Wednesday, which would allow the city to use the annual employee savings to pay existing personnel.

“This is a program designed to acknowledge that employees are a capital asset,” Chief of Staff Mike Meeks said. “We are losing our senior people quite quickly, and we’re trying to retain people, and this is just another tool in the toolbox.”

With vacancies in various departments, the city accumulated $6 million of employee savings from 2016 to 2020. These funds were transferred to the Capital Fund dedicated to city infrastructure projects.

If the ordinance is adopted, each year the council will decide how much salary savings should be transferred to the Capital budget and how much to employees. In 2021, the city would start with a 30% allocation to employees, according to the ordinance.

The need for a bonus program comes from staffing shortages, especially in the Fairbanks Police Department, which needs 11 more officers. Additionally, Meeks said that officers, fire personnel and dispatchers working for the city now tend to be younger, which shows that the city is losing experienced employees. This is why the ordinance proposes to give bonuses to employees who have worked for the city for at least six months.

The annual salary savings would be calculated for each union within the city, which would allow the departments with more vacancies to have more funds for the bonuses.

The idea of unequal bonuses brought some criticism from the committee member Jerry Cleworth, who said that it might create tension in other departments. He also argued that using employee savings on bonuses would shorten the Capital Budget while the city is not using those funds to improve roads.

“I think you’re taking care of what you believe to be a problem at the outset, which is creating a problem on the backside as well,” Cleworth said. “I still think you should do this case by case in a department where there’s mandatory overtime, I do have sympathy for that.”

Meeks argued that a “one size fits all” model for bonuses would be less fair.

“If I’m in a department where I had been forced to work overtime multiple times and I had to take time away from my family versus in a department where I had very little forced overtime, and we’re all going to reap the same benefits, that doesn’t seem fair,” Meeks said. He said that with the proposed ordinance, “You’re not picking winners and losers. You’re picking a percentage, and those who had to work more, because of the forced overtime.”

Council member June Rogers agreed. “This makes a statement that we value our employees,” she said about the ordinance. “More than the actual dollars of a program, the intent that people are valued, at least for me personally, is always something that I think is a much larger statement.”

The ordinance will be presented at the next City Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 11. The public can attend in person at City Hall as well as virtually at bit.ly/Fbx_City. The public can share their thoughts about the ordinance during public comments.

Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at (907) 459-7587 or at anaiden@newsminer.com. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.

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