The Little Falls City Council will have plenty to discuss at its upcoming retreat.
Tuesday, City Administrator Jon Radermacher asked members of the Council to start thinking about a date and time this spring it would like to get together for a retreat, which serves as a planning, or even brainstorming, session for the upcoming year.
He said the Council did its first retreat in 2021, at which point it discussed Council procedures, communication and more. As it was a valuable process, the Council met again in 2022 and focused on capital projects.
“I know I’ve heard from a couple of council members on some things that they wanted to discuss,” Radermacher said. “We could kind of give staff that direction and we could start preparing some research for that and have that ready so that we can kind of take that into further discussion.”
He said these meetings “set the tone” for the work that will be done over the course of the year, and even in subsequent years. At the same time, they take the opportunity to look at what the Council has recently achieved.
“If there’s anything like that the council members would like to see, we can start putting together a list,” Radermacher said.
He said items such as a proposed community recreation center and government center will get discussed in depth.
Another major topic of discussion is the process of reworking the city’s pay grade and step structures. Radermacher said they are currently in phase 3, as it recently completed contract negotiations with a handful of different labor unions.
The process includes re-evaluating many of the city’s job descriptions and pay equity points, which must remain in compliance with state measures.
“The final phase of that is actually looking at creating additional positions, what we’re calling tiers of positions,” Radermacher said. “Very specifically, this started in the conversation, and we’re going to first work through it on the water and wastewater treatment plants.”
In those departments, he said there are some “really experienced” employees working for the city. They are currently in the process of combining those two departments — water and wastewater — into having treatment operators that can work at both facilities. However, there are currently more seasoned employees on the water treatment side.
The goal is to get operators on both sides more training to gain licensure and credentials for both plants. Radermacher said this will give them incentives to work up in their career while remaining with the city of Little Falls.
The first step, he said, was establishing what the base, or floor, positions were going to be in each department. After that, it has to look at hypotheticals, such as if the city has two people with Class A licenses. In that event, the city wants to create a position that will incentivize employees to gain those additional credentials.
To further illustrate the need, he said, in the “wastewater world” in order to earn a Class A license, someone must first have some sort of supervisory experience. Currently, the city does not offer any positions, such as assistant superintendent, that would allow them to do so.
“We kind of want to work back to that in creating some opportunities for employees to advance in their career, as well as, provide for employees that have been really experienced and probably could advance or move on to other communities or other roles somewhere else, an opportunity for them to want to stay,” Radermacher said. “Now they see that there’s a next level.”
Another example he gave was within the Little Falls Police Department. There, he said the city has many experienced patrol officers who may want to obtain a higher position. Currently, there are no sergeant jobs available with the department.
It will also help to have different tiers, according to Radermacher, on the hiring side. Doing so would allow the city more flexibility in the hiring process. For example, if someone has a lot of experience, they can look at giving them a starting title and pay commiserate with what they have coming in.
“In this climate and environment, having more tools in our toolbox for that recruitment and retention side actually creates a lot of value for us,” Radermacher said.
He said industry standards are, if someone has to be replaced, it takes about two years’ worth of salary for that position before the new hire gets to the same level of the person who vacated the job.
In the Police Department, he said it is becoming more common for them to hire someone joining from a different agency.
In the past, Radermacher said the city was good at getting new people on a part-time basis, eventually allowing them to work up to full-time.
“We’re not seeing that anymore,” he said. “There’s not the people that are in that position or in that opportunity to take a part-time role, just with very little experience. The ones we did have, more and more, they just don’t have the time available to take that.”
Ultimately, he said the city will have positions on the books that are not filled. That is by design. The point is that they are there for employees to work toward and attain.
In terms of the retreat, he said he’ll be looking for input on what could be implemented and, if applicable, if there’s anything to which a council member might be opposed, relative to the initiative.
“I don’t want you feel blindsided when, we work on this for six months, come to you with a final list of all of these positions and you feel like this is the first time you’ve had any say or input on it,” Radermacher said.
“I think the past ones worked out pretty good,” said Council Member Frank Gosiak, referring to the retreats. “Most of us attended. They are beneficial.”