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City adds fewer employees than other SD cities

The city of Mitchell has added a net total of six full-time city employees in the last 10 years, far fewer than other similarly sized cities in South Dakota.

There are currently 176 full-time employees on the city's payroll, according to Billie Kelly, the city's human resources director. That's about a 3 percent increase from 2004, when there were 170 full-time city employees.

"Mitchell is very conservative when it comes to adding employees," Kelly said. "Sometimes, we add services and then have to add employees later because those who are doing the services can't keep up."

When compared to Mitchell, increases in the number of full-time city employees in other similarly sized cities in the state have been far greater -- sometimes, as much as six times greater -- in the last 10 years.

In Watertown, there were 206 full-time city employees included in this year's budget. That's a more than 13 percent increase from 2004, when there were 182.

There are 135 full-time city employees in Brookings this year, a nearly 18 percent increase from 2004, when there were approximately 115. According to Brookings City Manager Jeffrey Weldon, the city has budgeted for an additional two positions in its budget for 2015.

The city of Huron had approximately 128 full-time employees in 2004, but that's increased by about 18 percent to approximately 151 full-time employees this year.

The number of full-time city employees was a hotly debated topic this week during the city of Mitchell's annual budget hearings.

On Tuesday night, the City Council agreed to a new set of rules, proposed by Councilman Steve Rice, to follow during the budget process, including a vow not to increase the total number of city employees. But on Wednesday night, the council backed away from imposing a strict limit on the number of people employed by the city.

Instead, the council asked City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein, who is a new city employee herself, to evaluate each department's staffing situation, including requests for new positions, and give recommendations to the council at a later date.

Requests to add at least six new jobs to the city's payroll were set to be considered as part of the proposed budget for next year. They included two additional firefighter positions, an additional emergency dispatcher, an information technology technician, a secretary for the human resources department and a maintenance person for three city-owned buildings: the Mitchell Public Safety building, the James Valley Community Center and City Hall.

Kelly said the council's decision will allow its members to make a more informed decision about the city's staffing situation.

"With the new city administrator, they'll be able to take an even deeper look at things," Kelly said. "So, they'll have some good, solid information to base their decision on."

Most of the city's more recent staffing increases have been for public safety, Kelly said.

"In public safety, of course, you don't want to stretch your people too thin," she said.

The Fire Division added three full-time employees in 2008, and the Communications Division added an emergency dispatcher in 2009, and another in 2011.

The Police Division, with 29 full-time employees, and the Fire Division, with 20 full-time employees, are two of the city's largest departments, though both are considered a part of the city's public safety department.

Many of the city's other departments have had the same number of full-time employees for years or, in some cases, decades. The Mitchell Public Library, for instance, has six full-time employees, which is actually one less than it did in 1995.

"I would venture to say they're providing more public services than they were before, because the public demands it," Kelly said.

With limited increases in recent years, Kelly said the city's department heads have adapted to working with the staff they have.

"They try as hard as they can," she said. "The managers have learned how to do more with less."