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Charleston gives 2nd round of bonuses to all employees to help with retention

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Charleston City Council approved end of year bonuses for all city employees Nov. 22. File/Staff

In an effort to combat high employee turnover, Charleston officials have approved a second round of bonuses for city workers.

All employees will receive about $750 after taxes, and department heads have the discretion to give extra to workers who had strong performances in 2022.

Charleston City Council on Nov. 22 unanimously approved allocating $2.1 million toward the bonuses using money that was originally budgeted for the salaries of positions that have remained vacant this year.

"Because those vacancies were there, all of our employees were pulling extra weight," Mayor John Tecklenburg said during a Ways & Means Committee meeting.

Throughout the year, Charleston officials have been receiving updates on the city's vacancies from the human resources department. At a Nov. 10 briefing, Heather Pope, deputy director of human resources, told council members that the city was on track to have a 30 percent turnover rate for its non-police and fire positions by the end of 2022.

“It’s not a great place to be,” Pope said of the turnover rate.

The police department and the fire department were on track to have 12 and 11 percent turnover rates, respectively.

As a result, City Council has undertaken new efforts to boost employee pay and remain competitive with the private sector and area governments.

In July, council bumped up the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour and allocated $1,250 bonuses to all employees.

And heading into the fiscal year, which begins Jan. 1, the Finance Department factored in $16.5 million worth of pay raises into a draft of the city budget. If approved by council, police and fire workers will see a 12 percent raise and all other employees will see a 13.3 percent raise. Doing so evens out the minimum wage across all departments to $17 per hour while ensuring sufficient progression in pay across higher-level positions. 

"We are going to need that pay increase in January if we are going to reverse this trend that we are seeing because that’s just not sustainable," Human Resources Director Kay Cross said at the Nov. 10 briefing.

The proposed 2023 budget also includes funding for paid family leave for the first time. 

Currently, employees are protected by federal paid leave policies, which allow them to take up to 12 weeks off after the birth or adoption of a child. But that policy doesn’t require employers to pay for that time off.

Instead, Charleston employees are encouraged to use all available sick leave and vacation time to maintain their pay during family leave. They could also sign up for short term disability, which covers 60 percent of an employee’s pay.

The proposed paid leave policy provides paid maternity leave for up to four weeks immediately following the birth or adoption of a child. It also includes two weeks of paid parental leave for each parent. The mother can add the two weeks onto the end of the maternity leave or use the two weeks at any point within 12 months of having the child.

So far, City Council members have indicated that they plan to vote in favor of including the pay raises and paid family leave in the proposed budget, even if it means cutting other expenses or raising the property tax rate. If the rate is increased, sales tax refunds issued on resident's property tax bills could negate the increased cost to homeowners.

Under state law, cities can give sales tax revenue back to residents in the form of a credit on their property tax bill. Historically, Charleston has given 100 percent back to residents. 

In 2022, the property tax increase approved would have increased the bill on a $500,000 home by $60. But the sales tax credit covered the increase and actually lowered that payment by $10 from the year before.

The first of three votes on the 2023 budget will take place Dec. 6.

Reach Emma Whalen at 843-708-5837. Follow her on Twitter @_emma_whalen. 

Emma covers the city of Charleston for the Post and Courier. Previously, she covered city hall and general assignments for newspapers in Houston and Austin. She is a Boston-area native, former student athlete and graduate of The University of Texas.

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