CASEY: Roanoke (and many other local governments) is hiring! | Government and politics

Last week, I had to take care of some mundane municipal business involving our son Zach. He lives in California, but sometimes we still get bills addressed to him at Grandin Court. The latest was an overdue car tax bill from the Roanoke government.

So I called City Hall and ended up talking to Treasurer Evelyn Powers, who I’ve known for 28 years. As a newly hired reporter for the Roanoke Times, she was one of the first city workers I ever met, back in 1994.

At the time, Powers was a clerk in the city auditor’s office. Now she is treasurer, one of the city’s few elected constitutional officers. His office is responsible for collecting about $300 million a year in taxes and other fees. Basically, it is the cornerstone of city government.

During our conversation, Powers blurted out that his office is currently understaffed. With unemployment in Virginia at just 2.8%, many private employers are also feeling the same way these days. It appears that the most significant worker shortages in the private sector in Virginia are in the hotel and restaurant categories.

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The Roanoke Treasurer currently has four full-time openings, out of 18 full-time authorized positions. And when the office is short-staffed, that means it’s just a little harder to do all the work the office needs to do.

Powers is working hard to fill these positions, but it hasn’t been easy.

“Trying to find people who have good experience in cash management is difficult,” Powers informed me.

That’s probably because far fewer people carry cash these days than 30 years ago, before debit cards became ubiquitous. Thus, the universe of qualified tellers has probably shrunk.

Vacancies in the Treasurer’s Office are currently among 65 vacancies in Roanoke City Government. You can check out this list and the requirements for each and the salary – just go to roanokeva.gov and click “JOBS” on the homepage.

Roanoke County Hiring as well – they are looking for workers to fill 36 different positions posted on the roanokecountyva.gov website.

The lowest paying county government job is a janitor who pays just over $13 an hour.

But Roanoke County also has an opening for an $83,000 assistant parks superintendent and one for its economic development director as well. The latter pays a minimum of $107,000 and up to $140,000 annually.

The Salem government hires for at least 26 different positions (half of which are part-time, according to job postings on salemva.gov). One is a full-time chef for the Salem Civic Center.

The minimum professional qualifications are a high school diploma or a general equivalency diploma, plus “considerable experience” in catering. This job pays between $40,500 and $65,000, depending on the listing. He will pay some bills.

The starting salary for the lowest-ranked Roanoke government jobs is $15 an hour. Considering that’s $4 more than Virginia’s minimum wage (currently $11 an hour) and more than double the federal minimum ($7.25), there’s nothing to sneeze at.

No one will ever live rich on those salaries — which total around $32,000 a year. But let’s look at some of the other benefits that Roanoke City workers also enjoy. These are not negligible.

Every new full-time hire at Roanoke City Hall gets six hours of paid sick leave per month, and those hours can be carried over and accumulated, up to a point. Retiring city employees can cash out up to six months of unused sick leave when they leave.

Every entry-level Roanoke worker also gets an additional 12 hours of paid time off (aka vacation) per month. That’s 144 hours a year, to start with, which equates to just under a month of paid vacation in the first year of employment. Not bad.

These days, full-time city workers in Roanoke also get three paid mental health days a year (something new, Powers told me).

City of Roanoke workers are also covered by an employer-provided pension. This is in addition to Social Security, and on top of any additional retirement savings that employees accumulate. (City employees also have a tax-efficient retirement savings option similar to a 401(k) retirement plan.)

As part of their remuneration, they benefit from health and dental insurance. And the city government also runs a “welfare center” for employees. There they can see a healthcare professional at no cost, almost without an appointment.

Beyond that, most government employees have gigs Monday through Friday. Of course, there are some exceptions to these hours, such as with firefighters, police officers, and prison guards.

And finally, there is an opportunity for advancement. Powers, who turns 65 in November, is a perfect example.

In 1980, she was working at the Dominion Bank, in a job that paid just over $8,000 a year. Powers told me “I felt rich” when, in 1981, she was hired as an administrative assistant for the Roanoke City Auditor, earning $10,800.

Later, she was promoted to executive secretary, and later even to an audit position. And when David Anderson, his predecessor as treasurer, stepped down with two years left in his term, Powers was granted a temporary appointment.

In the next election, Roanokers elected her to the position, which pays $164,000 a year under Virginia law. It’s a great salary — and Power says she deserves it. People must agree, because no one has ever challenged her for re-election.

Most days, she told me, she’s in the office shortly after 7 a.m., and rarely leaves before 5 p.m. And with the job comes $300 million of liability, which is a lot.

The thing is, that’s where a low-level, $15-an-hour job in city government can attract someone who is ambitious and wants to improve their future. It took Powers over 30 years to get there, but she did it.

That’s why I say to anyone currently looking for a job: make sure you don’t neglect local governments. They don’t offer riches, but they do offer a fair measure of job security and income. And benefits, at least at Roanoke City Hall, are better than some union members get.

Contact Subway Columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter:.


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