Jason Happe

Jason Happe, superintendent of the Southern Hills Golf Course, was recognized by the Hot Springs City Council with the “Miser Award” for his stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

Photo by George Ledbetter

In a move aimed at reducing employee turnover rates, the Hot Springs City Council has approved increases in the hourly wages of part-time and seasonal employees of Evans Plunge Mineral Springs.

The action at the council’s Jan. 2 meeting increases the pay rate above the 20-cent per hour bump that was needed to meet the state’s minimum wage and moves the starting wage for lifeguards from $8.85 per hour to $9.25. The head lifeguard wage goes from $9.10 per hour to $9.75.

The annual cost of the change would be about $4,481, based on estimates of staffing requirements and other factors, according to Finance Officer Misty Summers-Walton.

The recommendation to increase the wage rates above the amount included in the city budget came in response to problems of retaining employees, according to city administrator Kim Barbieri. The employee turnover problem at Evans Plunge is obvious from looking at the council agenda every month, Barbieri said in the cost analysis presented to council members.

“There was a problem and it needed solving,” Barbieri told the council. “This is a money-making endeavor. We are trying to be a tourist destination,” she said.”We have to be competitive (on wages). People on the front line at the Plunge are the first and sometimes only contact (visitors) have with Hot Springs.”

Part of the job of workers at the city-owned mineral spring-fed pool involves potentially dealing with life and death emergencies, said Mayor George Kotti. “We need to have the best trained people. They need to have a wage comparative to someone working at McDonalds.”

The salary resolution incorporating increases for the Evans Plunge employees was adopted over the objections of council members Carolann Schwarzenbach and Schuyler Wetzel. Ward 3 representative Schwarzenbach said taking action outside of the budget process is “not the appropriate time.”

“I don’t think this is the right time,” agreed Ward 2 council member Wetzel, who participated in the meeting via phone. “Now every other department is going to start coming and asking (for wage increases).”

Bob Nelson, who represents Ward 4, also expressed reservations about the move, but received assurances from Plunge manager Kris Hanson that the increase could be funded without exceeding the facility’s 2018 budget. In response to a question from Ward 1 representative Georgia Holmes, Hanson also noted that training a new lifeguard takes about 23 hours, and represents a significant cost to the city.

A resolution setting wages and salaries for other city employees was passed unanimously and without discussion.

The council agenda also included presentation of the first “Miser Award” for the best stewardship of taxpayer’s money by a city department to Jason Happe, superintendent of the Southern Hills Golf Course. Happe and his staff always try to find the best prices on items they purchase said Kotti.

The honor, accompanied by a sizable ‘traveling trophy’ is to be recognized annually, Kotti noted.

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Other business at the council’s first meeting of 2018 included:

*a decision to name the new Fall River Herald Tribune as the city’s official newspaper for publication of legal notices. The new publication represents an expansion of the Edgemont Herald Tribune, said editor Brett Nachtigall. The move will be challenged on legal grounds by the Hot Springs Star, which has been the official city newspaper for many years;

*approval of a requirement that council members use the hs-sd.org email address for official city business. The move was suggested by the city attorney to avoid the appearance of impropriety, and not in response to any problem, Kotti said. “It is to keep from the appearance that the council is using a family email that others have access to,” he said.

*authorization for the finance officer to restrict $450,000 in the water fund and $600,000 in the wastewater fund for infrastructure improvements to be undertaken in conjunction with the 2021 road reconstruction project;

* a report from Summers-Walton that the city’s online surplus property auction netted about $95,000;

*a report from Kotti that 31 applications have been received for the city’s development coordinator position and that applicants are being screened for interviews.

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