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Local governments struggle to hire public sector workers

October 4, 2021 GMT

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Some local Kansas governments are operating with 10% of their positions unfilled, making it hard to deliver the services that citizens expect.

Across the state, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that Kansas has seen a 4.7% drop in the number of public sector workers, which translates into about 12,000 vacant jobs, but some towns are being hit harder, The Topeka Capital-Journal reports.

The pandemic has made the situation worse because the competitive labor market has made it hard to replace older employees who decided to retire. And private companies, which are also struggling to hire, have more flexibility in pay and benefits than city governments generally do.

In Concordia, city manager Amy Lange said the government is down to the bare minimum needed to perform city functions, but with six positions open — which accounts for 10% of the city’s workforce — workers are stretched thin.

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The problems become more serious when you look at the area’s pool of emergency medical technicians, where full-time staff has been forced to work more often and longer hours because the pool of part-time EMS workers has dwindled.

“Yes, they get paid a little bit better. Yes, they get overtime,” Lange said. “But after about a year of that, they start to get burned out and they need a break, too.”

Elsewhere, the city of Lawrence has over twice the normal number of vacant positions. In Winfield, the city had to overhaul its pay structure for utilities workers in an effort to avoid being short-staffed. And officials in Shawnee County and across Kansas have struggled to hire corrections and public safety workers.

Winfield City Manager Taggart Wall said it’s no longer a question of whether local governments can do more with less.

“With the ongoing pressures, if there is no funding change, it really will be doing less with less,” he said. “There will have to be tough decisions made about what services are actually provided.”