Department heads call for competitive wages

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Pawhuska city councilors on June 16 delayed voting to approve budget documents for the 2022-23 fiscal year until a Thursday, June 23 meeting.

Municipal fiscal years begin July 1 and end June 30.

The Pawhuska City Council directly engaged Department heads and administrative personnel in a detailed consideration of potential spending levels for 2022-23 during the Council’s meeting June 14. Adjustments were made to the draft budget in the aftermath of that set of conversations to prepare for further adjustments and possible final approval on June 16.

At-Large Councilor Steve Tolson on June 16 requested additional time to examine revenue data and make sure that revenues had adequately been projected to cover spending.

Department heads repeatedly told Pawhuska city councilors on June 14 that city government needed to pay more competitive wages to attract and keep able workers.

Assistant City Manager Tonya Hutson agreed that wage competitiveness is an issue for Pawhuska. She commented about developing pay structures, including pay structures for employees with specialized licenses and certifications.

Police Chief Lorrie Hennesy voiced concern about losing officers and dispatchers to other employers — other law enforcement departments and the new casino that the Osage Nation is building just east of town.

Councilors were listening carefully. When Hennesy suggested she needed to be able to offer at least $18 per hour to officers to try to keep them, the council suggested $19 per hour. Wage policy will not be spelled out directly in the budget, but the overall appropriation level for each department will create flexibility for the department head to pay more. Hennesy provided supplemental information to the Council on June 16.

While discussing wages June 14, Hennesy told the Council that Pawhuska police will have to respond to additional challenges when the new Osage Nation casino begins operations. For instance, the number of DUI offenses is likely to increase, she said.

Some departments explained to councilors that they will likely have to adjust to retirements, and to add personnel to meet challenges or provide flexibility. The Fire Department will be adjusting in the new fiscal year to the anticipated retirement of Chief Gip Allen.

Pay and staffing concerns were not the only issues under consideration as the 2022-23 budget was being developed. Zak Finn commented that important maintenance and repair needs must be met at the city light plant just to maintain current levels of power generation.