SHERIDAN — The city has seen significant staff turnover this year and has had trouble attracting qualified candidates to fill open positions in recent years, human resources director Heather Doke told city council during a regular meeting Tuesday.
Doke detailed the challenges facing the city as it tries to fill vacant positions during a presentation on employee recruitment and retention.
Twenty-one employees have left the city so far this year, seven of whom retired. That is the highest turnover since 2014, when 35 city employees left.
Hiring new employees requires the city to pay to advertise open positions, for pre-employment screening such as drug tests and background checks, training costs and the labor it takes to review applications and conduct interviews. Once a new employee is on board, there is still likely to be a productivity gap; Doke cited a national statistic that estimates it takes six months to a year before a new employee is fully productive.
Those costs are compounded by the fact that the city is receiving fewer applications for open positions than in past years, and Doke said of the applications the city is receiving, fewer of the candidates are qualified for the positions for which they are applying.
On average, Doke said, it takes the city roughly 44 days to fill an open position.
“This is not a problem unique to the city of Sheridan,” Doke said. “As I talk to other HR directors around the state, we’re all seeing the same thing.”
Most of the current openings in the city are public safety jobs. Out of 10 open positions, six of them are in the police department and four of those vacancies are police officers. Doke said the last time the police department was fully-staffed was in 2014.
In 2017, 53 applicants applied for open police officer positions; 29 of those applicants tested and the department hired four. So far this year, the department has had 27 applicants, 14 of those tested, two were hired and the department is currently conducting background checks on two more.
In addition, applications for positions in the fire department have declined steadily over the past decade-plus: in 1995, the city fire department received more than 90 applications; by 2004 that number had dropped to 31 and it has fallen to 19 this year.
Several factors could account for the current dearth of applications. Unemployment is relatively low nationwide and lower still in Sheridan County; the national unemployment rate was 3.9 percent in the second quarter of 2018, 3.8 percent in Wyoming and 3.5 percent in Sheridan County, meaning there are fewer job seekers and in many cases the city will have to attract candidates away from current jobs.
The city has also seen an influx of new and expanding businesses, such as Weatherby, Kennon, Vacutech and Emit, which makes the local hiring market more competitive.
Further, expensive housing costs limit the number of employees willing to relocate to Sheridan. Doke cited statistics from the Wyoming Community Development Authority that showed the median sales price for homes in Sheridan County was $241,500 in 2017 compared to $223,000 statewide.
The city will have to start developing solutions to these problems, though, as it could be facing considerable turnover in coming years. In five years, Doke said, nine of the 34 employees within the police department, six of the 16 employees in the fire department and 49 of the 120 city employees from all other departments will be eligible for retirement.
In 10 years, 14 of the 34 employees in the police department, 12 of the 16 members of the fire department and 83 of the 120 employees in the rest of the city will be eligible.
Doke said she will continue to work with city departments and other HR directors around the state to find ways to attract more qualified candidates. In the meantime, she said the city is doing its best to retain staff by keeping wages and benefits competitive and offering employee advancement and training plans, which reward city employees who earn additional licenses or certifications with promotions and raises.
According to Doke, the city does do a good job of retaining employees, as employees on average have an 8.7-year tenure working in the city, while the average tenure for employees is 4.4 years nationally.
• Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would rezone Sheridan Memorial Hospital’s medical campus from R-3 to Medical Arts, which is a designation created by the city to accommodate the unique needs of the hospital. The MA zoning designation requires the hospital to submit a master plan to the city, which will guide future development on the campus. The hospital is seeking the rezone primarily so it can install new signs that will direct visitors around its campus. City staff is recommending the council approve the rezone request.
• Council approved a resolution allowing the Hawks Rest minor subdivision, an infill project located at the northwest corner of Big Horn Avenue and West Brundage Lane that will divide a 2.28 acre lot into five smaller lots.
• Sheridan County YMCA executive director Liz Cassiday provided an update on the ongoing construction at the YMCA. She said the project is scheduled to be completed by the end of next summer.