NORFOLK, Va. — The City of Norfolk is on the hunt for workers, but it's a tough task. The city is down nearly 800 workers.
They're looking to fill all types of jobs, including librarians, customer service representatives and recreation aides, but the most crucial need is for first responders.
"They cannot afford to take care of their families on the minimum salaries or even the mid-level salaries," said Human Services Director Denise Gallop.
Gallop knows firsthand how low pay can cause vacancies. In her department, she has 60 open positions. '
Overall, the City of Norfolk has nearly 800 jobs to fill - nearly 20% of its total workforce.
"The 800 vacancies we've been struggling with, about 200 of those are police officers," said Deputy City Manager Catheryn Whitesell.
To help combat this staffing issue, city officials said they're considering raising wages to attract new workers, starting by increasing the minimum wage for city employees from $12 to $18.
"Norfolk has had a commitment to doing a living wage and has been slowly growing its minimum levels of employment. About 750-plus titles fall under $18 today," said Whitesell.
A possible increase is bringing hope to some. City council members hope to approve the budget by May 10.
"The struggle that we've had related to attracting talent, but also retaining talent, we're getting to cut that in half," said Gallop.
A forensics investigator with the Norfolk Police Department who's also part of the Norfolk Police Union said retention is the tough part.
"We can't get enough to fill the seats that are there. What needs to happen is hold the positions that we already have as far as retention," said Mike Lynch.
Even with the starting pay for a police officer increased to more than $50,000, Lynch said applications to the department are down, and the force is 240 officers short.
"We're taking on more roles as a first responder. We're therapists; we're babysitters; we're healthcare workers - that extra stress takes officers off the street," said Lynch.
The city is hosting a job fair Saturday at MacArthur Center from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. The city council is considering lowering employee healthcare costs, as well as proposing more paid family leave to increase the number of workers.