Budget Commitee approves 2 1/2 posiions for Public Workers

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

The Public Works Department will add 2.5 full-time equivalent employees in the 2006-07 budget approved by the city’s Budget Committee on May 11.

The budget moves next to the City Council for a public hearing and final approval. The committee reviewed Public Works funds at the meeting on May 11.

“You need staff to do the work,” said Public Works Director Mike Adams. “There’s just enough work out there with everything we’re asked to do,” in the utilities plus a variety of other work orders, that the city needs to add workers.

The city has 8.9 workers right now, Adams said. Of those, the .9 position is currently vacant. The department also has one mechanic position.

Adams said that some turnover in the department appears likely in the near future. Four Public Works employees have more than 25 years employment history with the city, he said, and three of those have the strong potential to leave at any time for various reasons. Another employee is planning to return to school full-time in the fall.

“This is just reality, and we need to ask ourselves how much delay we are willing to sacrifice before we are able to have new staff in place and adequately trained when the existing does leave,” Adams said. The department’s workers have added responsibilities, including storm drainage issues. The city has been combining the closed part of the system, catch basins and underground infrastructure, with the wastewater collections system.

Increased focus and specialization are needed to meet pending permit requirements, Adams said, as well as to maintain or increase the level of service within the city’s water, sewer and street systems.

“Based upon historical data and established service level expectations, the amount of work requests placed upon the maintenance division within Public Works requires additional labor resources,” he said.

One of the new workers will be assigned to streets. The second full position will be split between water and wastewater.

The remaining increases will increase part-time positions to full time.

Adams presented a chart showing allocations of positions and man-hours throughout the Public Works Department. His chart showed that the department has fallen far below the goals of the department in terms of recommended man-hours for various activities.

In the fourth quarter of 2005, the city dedicated only 400 man-hours to its performance goals, which suggest 1,100 man-hours in a variety of maintenance activities.

The budget also includes an increase in water and sewer rates. Base charges will remain at $17 and $19 for water and sewer respectively.

If approved by the council, the commodity charge will increase from $4 per 100 cubic feet to $4.18 for water and $4.76 per 100 cubic feet to $5.13 in sewer.

Commercial rates will increase by 18 cents per 100 cubic feet for water. For sewer the rates increase by 36 cents for low users, 41 cents for medium and 49 cents for industrial.

“The primary reason is, again, the anticipated debt service on both utilities,” Adams said. “Rather than having a huge addition in coming years, the council looked at it from a standpoint of a sensible small increase on a regular basis is easier to absorb.”

The council will probably take action on the increase after it formally adopts the 2006-07 budget in June, most likely in early July, with the rate increase taking effect as of July 1, Adams said.

The city is incurring debt in both its water and sewer systems. In the water division, the city is planning to build a new water treatment plant to replace one built in the 1930s that cannot meet standards raised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1997.

In the wastewater system, the city is under an obligation to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to reduce inflow and infiltration, which is water that leaks into the sewer system through deteriorating pipes or through cross connections to storm drainage systems.