The base salary for mostly entry-level and middle-management positions has been increased for transportation workers in an effort to reduce the exodus of state workers for higher paying jobs, members of the Oklahoma Transportation Commission were told Monday.
The state Transportation Department experienced a 15 percent turnover rate last year, and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority had a 16 percent turnover rate, Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley told commissioners.
“It's the worst I've ever seen,” said Ridley, who is planning to retire in March after working 44 years for the Transportation Department and has served as its director since 2001.
“They're leaving as fast as we can hire them,” he said.
The pay adjustments went into effect last week, he said. The Transportation Department's cost this fiscal year — which began July 1 — will cost about $3.2 million, and the cost will be about $7.2 million in the 2014 fiscal year.
“This is not an across-the-board increase by any means,” Ridley said. “It's to establish the baseline compensation level ... Some people are affected by a salary adjustment; some are not.”
It's been more than six years since state workers received an across-the-board pay increase.
That 5 percent increase took effect in October 2006.
A House of Representatives committee last year looked at suggestions that pay increases for state employees should be based on performance appraisals instead of across-the-board increases.
The Transportation Department and Turnpike Authority have had a tough time retaining entry-level truck drivers, equipment operators and maintenance workers, as well as engineers, Ridley said.
Many state employees are leaving for the energy field, where accountants, engineers, truck drivers and oil rig workers are needed and the pay is higher.
Beginning maintenance workers who have a license to drive trucks are a “pretty hot commodity” in the energy sector, Ridley said.
“It has really drained a lot of our staff, and we can't keep it going that way,” he said.
The Transportation Department has about 2,290 employees. The department, which has lowered its employees from about 3,200 employees mostly by contracting out work the past 20 years, needs about 2,350 workers to work on projects and have sufficient maintenance workers in the field, Ridley said.
In other action ...
• Commissioners approved granting a maximum of $500,000 to move part of a road in Enid south of the municipal airport. Mike Cooper, of Enid and chairman of the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission, said the roadway is being altered so aircraft can safely land at a runway that is being extended at Woodring Municipal Airport. The $5.8 million runway project is expected to be completed by 2015 when nearby Vance Air Force Base plans to rebuild one of its runways. The longer runway at Woodring will accommodate student pilots and others so Vance's training mission won't have to be relocated to another base.
• Commissioners also approved granting a maximum of $200,000 to build a road to provide access to Forum Energy Technologies in Garvin County. The company is embarking on a $9 million expansion project which will result in the addition of 45 new full-time jobs.