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City looks to increase minimum wage in bid to fill hundreds of vacancies

Closeup of $15 dollars with 10 and 5 dollar bills. Concept of 15 dollar federal minimum wage increase.

Photo: Getty Images

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston City Council is hoping a boost in pay will aid in the retention of government employees. Currently, the city has 293 positions budgeted but unfulfilled. The consensus on council is that those positions are not being filled because the city’s minimum wage is less than that of neighboring governments.

“It’s not just the municipalities, it’s the private sector as well. We are in a buyer’s market so to speak,” said council member Peter Shahid. “We have got to do what we have got to do to make sure we have quality people working for the city.”

According to Charleston’s chief finance officer, Amy Wharton, the minimum wage for city employees in Mount Pleasant is $16.92, in North Charleston it’s $15.39 and in Charleston County it’s $13.50 but will go up to $15 in July. Wharton says they can tell salary is an issue because of how many people are looking at their job postings versus how many are applying. Wharton presented the budget to the city council at a budget workshop last month.

“There are 19 positions that are advertised right now, and they have had almost 176,000 views and we have had 530 applicants,” Wharton said, suggesting many applicants are not qualified for the jobs. “Typically, what you want is a 20% ratio and we are at 0.3%.”

The city council will vote on the proposed budget for next year before the end of the year. In it, council members have proposed a millage increase of three to balance a $2.2 million deficit and increase minimum wage to $14 an hour in January. Millage is the amount of money you pay per $1,000 in property value. That means property tax on a $500,000 home would increase by $60-$90 depending on where you live.

“The net millage has actually gone down over the past 20 years,” Shahid said, referencing the Local Option Sale Tax which effectively reduces the amount of taxes paid on property. “We may be the only municipality that give back 100% of that rebate to our property owners. . . yes, this is going to be a millage increase, but it’s going to be a small pain.”

The departments hit hardest by turnover include the storm water department with a vacancy rate of 41%, the traffic and transportation department at 36% vacancy and the fire department with 46% of its non-sworn employee positions currently empty. Overall, 15% of the city’s budgeted positions are vacant.

“So, we are talking about lunch for two one day at a good restaurant,” Shahid said.

The numbers have convinced even the more conservative members of the council, like Harry Griffin who was opposed a millage increase last year.

“I’m concerned that if we don’t pay our employees more, we are not going to be able to serve our citizens,” Griffin said at the budget workshop. “It’s really disheartening to see how many vacancies wehaveand they are in the positions we need the most.”

The public will have an opportunity to speak on the budget at the city council meeting Tuesday night. The budget is expected to be passed before the end of the year.

Copyright 2021 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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