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It's time to get creative on ways to retain employees

September 16, 2005

The $1,350 pay raise just passed for West Virginia teachers, troopers and other state employees is a good thing, most would agree. But according to state Sens. John Unger and John Yoder, it's just not good enough.

Both said Wednesday that pay boosts passed during the special session just concluded aren't high enough to keep workers from leaving the state.

Given the state's financial situation - it posted a surplus of less than $50 million while lawmakers enacted a tax cut that will cost $25 million - it is unlikely that much more state funding will be devoted to salaries any time soon.

It's time for local officials to get creative in the search for ways to keep teachers and other state employees from leaving West Virginia. Fortunately, there are ways to do that.

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In March, Freddie Mac, which buys one of every six mortgage loans in the U.S. issued by regular lenders, announced its new "Home Possible" program.

The program is designed to help those working in police, fire/rescue, health care and education move into a house with as little as $500 down.

There are some strings. Applicants must earn more than the median income in the area where they want to live and they must take a borrower-education class before applying for a loan.

In August 2004, USA Today explored a variety of things employers were doing to help workers afford homes close to the job site.

They range from providing down payments for homes in exchange for a commitment to stay on the job for a set number of years.

Other areas are renovating properties, either as lower-cost rentals for their employees or as homes they can resell to them at affordable prices.

The common denominator in these programs is that they have been encouraged by lenders, who assist with credit counseling and paperwork.

The result is a reduction in the amount of turnover and training costs. That's what West Virginia faces now every time a police officer or teacher leaves for a more lucrative job in another state.

Yes, the best solution would be to increase salaries for all of these public servants. Until that happens, however, helping workers find housing they can afford may build loyalty that will last even after the time they agree to stay on the job.

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