Buckley leans on consultants as city rebuilds depleted staff

“We are continuing to bleed staff,” says City Administrator Dave Schmidt.

Buckley is bleeding staff to bigger jurisdictions with deeper pockets, city leaders say, and will need to lean on its consultants while the city rebuilds its rosters amid a still-hot building and housing market.

The matter came up during the city’s April 26 council meeting, which saw reports from a few key city department leaders.

“We are continuing to bleed staff,” City Administrator Dave Schmidt told the council, a sentiment echoed by Mayor Beau Burkett.

The city has lost nine full-time employees over the last few months, Schmidt said in an email, primarily in the building, planning, public works, fire and parks and recreation departments. Altogether, the city is budgeted for the rough equivalent of about 52.7 full-time employees, according to the final 2022 budget. That doesn’t include seasonal employees.

In a follow-up email May 6, Buckley Finance Director Sandi Hines said the city currently has 47 employees, which equates to 43.7 filled full time positions out of the budgeted 52.7 positions.

While there are a variety of reasons for the departures, “the overriding driver is compensation,” he wrote: Two-thirds of the departed employees were recruited by bigger jurisdictions with pay boosts, and in some cases, remote work options. That reflects a broader trend in local government, Schmidt said.

The situation means “it is a significant challenge to maintain” the city’s operations and level of service, Schmidt wrote.

Even without the staffing challenges, the city has been relying more on outside consultants to help manage their high development volume in a timely manner, Schmidt said. Consultants like 4Leaf, Blueline Group and Sound Inspection Services are helping fill the gaps left by departing employees, he said.

In the meantime, the planning department is delaying non-immediate or time-constrained work, Schmidt wrote, and that may mean putting off projects like updating the zoning code and application forms. Public Works and Parks will delay some maintenance work, though the return of four seasonal workers this year should help the city catch up, Schmidt said.

“We are in a situation where we have a tremendous amount of work (of a) tremendous complexity,” Building and Planning Director Emily Terrell said at the most recent meeting, and “unless a giant meteor hits” the economy, the city is on track to keep growing.

Marvin Sundstrom, the council’s perennial budget hawk, argues that the city already pays employees more than enough.

In an email, Sundstrom said he was not concerned by the turnover: “I do not see a lot of employees whose contribution will be missed leaving. (And) 15 percent turnover is healthy as it brings in new ideas.”

The council should have more control over city employee salaries, Sundstrom wrote. He also criticized city administration for not selling the city better to potential and current employees, and for not fostering a culture that rewards initiative.

Sundstrom has voiced those concerns repeatedly during council meetings, though he is often the lone council member opposing the city’s salary and budgeting proposals. He was the only ‘No’ vote during the April 12 vote to restructure the city salary grid.

Schmidt said the city is hopeful that the salary grid restructuring will help bring new people in.

The city is currently advertising for two positions. Associate Planner Evan Lewis left at the end of April to take a job in Federal Way, so Buckley wants to fill his position. The city also wants to hire a part-time temporary planning assistant. Five more full-time jobs, covered by a labor contract, have to be advertised in-house before the City can recruit outside for them.

Also on Tuesday, the council:

• Unanimously adopted an amendment docket to the city’s annual comprehensive plan to update the way they calculate traffic impact fees. Adopting the docket doesn’t approve the amendment itself, but it paves the way for the council to vote on that amendment in a later meeting.

• Unanimously agreed to an adjustment to move a boundary line, located between two single-family residential parcels at 133 S Rainier St. and 1281 Main St, about seven feet north. The applicant is the owner of the Rainier Street property and got the sign-off from their Main Street neighbor to request the change.

• Unanimously approved a lease agreement with Let’s Roll Buckley LLC to allow the company to lease an area next to the Veteran’s Memorial for renting out and storing / charging bicycles and motorized bicycles.

• Approved a memo of understanding between the city and the local Union of Operating Engineers. The memo confirms that the union agrees with the changes made to the city salary scale during the last city council meeting. All but Sundstrom approved the memo.