Simplified: City employees will get a one-time $2,000 bonus and will accrue vacation time more rapidly after a pair of measures passed City Council Tuesday night.

Why it matters

  • In the last couple years, the city has seen a slightly higher rate of turnover as well as more job openings and fewer applicants, according to city Human Resources Director Bill O'Toole.
  • The city is taking a two-pronged approach to solving this, O'Toole said. First, the $2,000 one-time bonuses – which will cost the city a total of just under $2.5 million – aim to cover the gap between wage increases and inflation. Second, the city is also doing a comprehensive wage and benefit study to find a longer-term solution.
  • Critics of the plan – including mayoral candidate David Zokaites – questioned the timing of the bonuses and posited that the plan was a way to "buy" votes ahead of the election, though councilors and labor representatives alike said that wasn't the case.
"There was no question to us that it was time to do something," O'Toole told Sioux Falls Simplified.

Tell me more about city wages

City employees have seen between a 2 and 3 percent increase on average over the last five years, O'Toole said.

  • This year, though, inflation surpassed 7 percent, he added, creating a gap for workers.

This isn't the first time the city has used one-time payments to help address salary shortfalls, but it hasn't happened since 2000. (Prior to that there were lump sum payments in 1999, 1998, 1995 and 1990, O'Toole said.)

"It's meaningful relief right now," O'Toole said of the bonuses. "But, again, the long-term game is to rely on the data that we're going to obtain from the (wage and benefits) study."

What are people saying?

The City Council gave unanimous support both to the updated vacation time policy and the $2,000 bonuses.

"Our residents expect top-notch service," Councilor Rick Kiley said. "To deliver that top-notch service we have to have top-notch employees."

In looking at the updated vacation leave, Councilor Greg Neitzert noted that people want more than money. They want to be able to have time to have experiences, he said, and the city needs to stay competitive when it comes to leave policies.

Councilor Marshall Selberg noted that in a challenging labor market, the city has to get creative.

"In my mind, the city needs to do everything possible to keep the best talent possible," Selberg said.

Mayoral candidate David Zokaites said it looks like incumbents on the City Council are trying to "buy votes."

Puja Datta, a labor representative with one of the unions representing city employees, said votes aren't being bought and that employees should be paid what they're worth.

"This is not a time where we look at the politics of the situation," Datta said. "This is a time where we look at what is good for the workers."

What happens next?

In the short-term, city employees will get their $2,000 one-time bonuses.

In the longer-term, the city's comprehensive wage and benefits study is expected to start late spring or early summer, O'Toole said.