Corvallis council snubs city manager hiring plan, almost bringing him to tears | Government and politics

Disappointed by council members’ lack of support for the hiring of retirees, Corvallis City Manager Mark Shepard warned staff were at a breaking point. The city is understaffed and is looking for solutions.

“You have great staff,” Shepard said at the Monday, August 1, city council meeting. “It was an easy opportunity to show your support for your staff.”

His advisors didn’t, and it almost brought him to tears.

Corvallis and other Oregon towns were asked to choose five priorities for the Oregon City Leaguewhich represents the cities of Salem, which to focus on in 2023. The League of Oregon Cities provides advocacy, training, and information services to city governments.

Among the priorities is a so-called “return to work” element, which would allow retirees to continue to re-enter the public sector without jeopardizing their pensions.

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Retirees from the public employee pension system are currently allowed to return to work without incurring a tax penalty or pension until 2024.

According to the League of Oregon Cities, hiring retirees allows employers to fill government vacancies without paying pensions and other costs during times of tax hardship and labor shortages. The sunset over the current configuration was established as part of a compromise PERS reform package passed in 2017.

“At some point, this organization will break,” Shephard said, his voice cracking with emotion. “And we won’t be able to respond, not only to council requests, but to provide basic services. I feel very bad for our staff.

Council voted unanimously on four of the five priorities determined by the city’s legislative committee: local funding to address homelessness; fill the gaps in measure 110; decarbonization, efficiency and modernization of buildings; and marijuana taxes.

As for the fifth choice, there were three options: return to work, continued investment in renewable energy and incentives for economic development. Citing a community survey ranking safety as the top concern, Shepard recommended that returning to work be among council’s top 5 priorities, according to a city document.

Back-to-work legislation would help keep the city’s vital operations running, Shepard wrote in the document, adding that recruiting and retaining employees is “extremely challenging across all sectors,” as the city finds. firsthand. The labor market is tight, and it should remain so, he wrote.

“The city currently has 56 vacancies, and several departments currently rely on retirees to fill vacancies to facilitate core city functions,” Shepard wrote.

There was no board motion regarding return to work.

A vote to continue investment in renewable energy failed 3-5, backed by councilors Charlyn Ellis, Gabe Shepherd and Charles Maughan. A subsequent vote for economic development incentives passed 7-1, opposed by Councilor Jan Napack. Councilor Andrew Struthers was absent.

Speaking by phone, Shepard said there was little to no support from the council to prioritize returning to work. Only Councilor Jan Napack spoke in favor of the legislative recommendation. Shepard said he was concerned about the health and long-term viability of city services.

“We won’t be able to do our day-to-day tasks of running the city if we keep chasing every idea and every desire,” Shepard said.

Perhaps adding insult to injury, the council has been burdening staff with demands related to a Green New Deal resolution and mixed-use zoning. Shepard said he had discussed with the board the ability of staff to support day-to-day operations; he is concerned about requests for additional work from the council and the community.

“It’s an ongoing problem where committed and well-meaning community members are asking for additional actions and services from the city, and there’s no more capacity,” he said. “My desire is to educate the board about these stressors, so they can be an ally to staff in managing these expectations.”

Retirees are a good option to fill staff gaps, Shepard added, noting they know the organization and the job well. Although some comments were made at the meeting about income stacking (earning retirement income while working), he said it was no different than hiring someone who retired from the army or another state.

Shepard said, “There’s no additional cost to the city, so it’s just to be able to continue to operate and provide services to the community.”

The Oregon League of Cities will likely pursue the right to work in the same way, but where it ends up on the lobbying organization’s priority list will be based on how other cities weigh in on the question.

Cody Mann covers Benton County and the towns of Corvallis and Philomath. He can be reached at 541-812-6113 or Cody.Mann@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter via @News_Mann_.

“At some point, this organization will break.” Mark Shepard, City Manager of Corvallis

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