The members of the St. James City Council met on Monday Jan. 9 to discuss problems and solutions going into the new year. After a brief presentation regarding an audit of the city’s finances, the council gave the second reading of an ordinance to form a tourism committee, allowing the city to apply for grants they were currently ineligible for. The ordinance passed unanimously, with the formation of the committee to come further down the road.

The council moved on to new business regarding the city’s budget and ways to properly allocate funds for the good of St. James. City Administrator Harold Selby called the council’s attention to the current wages being paid to many of the city’s utility workers. Selby argued the point, with several other council members agreeing, that changes needed to made to the current payment method, in order to properly compensate city employees for the work they are doing.

Selby brought up the fact that St. James currently has only a single journeyman electrician, with several apprentice electricians underneath him. Apprentices go through a series of annual reviews, after which they move from different apprenticeship levels before being promoted to journeyman. Selby voiced the main issue is that St. James is currently serving as a training ground for these individuals, rather than providing competitive incentives to stay. He stressed the need to raise their wages to encourage them to stay with the city and to show them their work is indeed being appreciated.

“How much longer do we think we can get people to work here for $8 an hour?” Selby asked the council, $8 being the starting wage for many city-employed workers.

A solution to this problem was proposed in the form of implementing a Step and Grade pay chart for city employees. The system would allow workers to see the change in their wages at each milestone in their career, helping them to plan ahead and invest their time in the city. The only obstacle in the way of raising wages, according to Monday’s meeting, is the issue of a finite city budget. To combat this, the city council is exploring alternate systems of utility billings, looking specifically at Rolla Municipal Utilities (RMU) and their methods. RMU’s system is a simply pay-as-you-use model, where citizens pay a flat rate per unit. St. James currently follows a more convoluted model. The outcome of switching to a different model is still being discussed, as the council doesn’t wish to rush anything. A switch to a different billing model could cause some bills to rise while others go down. The issue of competitive wages was treated as a priority and the council agreed upon its necessity. Mayor White called it “investing in our people.”

The city council is looking at other investments to benefit the city in the long run and finding different areas where, by spending a little money now, could save much more in the future. For example, rather than spending an extreme amount of money on IT and computer repair, why not properly train an employee to be able handle the issues as they arrive? By investing in classes and training for employees, the city won’t need to rely on outsourced services in the future. The council cited the new garbage trucks as a similar expense that will prove to be well worth its own weight in the future and seeks to make the same improvements in other departments.

An investment was also made in a property survey throughout the city, showing many houses previously listed on the floodplain, thus requiring homeowners to purchase flood insurance, are no longer listed as such. According to the meeting, citizens can pay for their property to be surveyed in order to show they are no longer on the floodplain and have their property  officially taken off the list, allowing them to save thousands of dollars in the future.

While there is some feedback in regards to the city’s budget, the council stressed the need to invest in their own citizens. And by making these small investments now, they can use taxpayer money more efficiently in the future.