City Council's Finance Committee agreed Friday to recommend setting new hourly rates for part-time, as-needed workers in the street department, both with or without a commercial driver's license.
Once approved by city council, the amendment of the wage ordinance paves the way for Streets Superintendent Jim Phillis to hire temporary workers when necessary to catch up during busy times.
The street department has hired part-timers before at minimum wage, but now the set wage will be $12 per hour for part-time without a CDL and $15 per hour for part-time with a CDL.
Phillis and city Auditor Betty Brothers reviewed his budget and figured a plan which equals up to $17,000 for part-timers, with the money coming from within his funding, which mostly comes from the state through vehicle registration fees, the license tax and the gas tax. None of the street department funding comes from the city income tax, except for the little bit transferred from the general fund for fringe benefits.
He didn't give a number for how many people he'll hire, saying he will track it through hours worked instead of days worked, noting they won't work a full eight-hour shift if he only needs them for five hours.
He also explained that the only reason he wanted a wage set for people with CDLs was in case he needs one or two people to help out with snow plowing during a really heavy storm. He said some retirees who already know the equipment and still have CDLs have told him they'll help out if they're needed.
Mayor John Berlin spoke to the committee about the need to have services delivered quickly to residents when it comes to snow removal and filling of potholes and part-time workers could help speed up the delivery of those services when the need arises. Both he and Phillis explained that the AFSCME union contract which covers street department employees allows for the hiring of temporary/seasonal workers as long as it doesn't cause the erosion of the current level of bargaining unit employees.
The street department includes seven workers who are covered by the union plus the foreman for a total of eight employees. One of the seven is the mechanic, who works on the fleets for all the departments. One worker has been off since December and may not return until May due to medical reasons, which has left the department shorthanded.
The department at one time had 10 full-time employees, but it dropped to eight in 2010. Up until 2007, the department employed four seasonal workers each year. There's no minimum staffing level set like there is in the fire department or police department, so when people are off, the rest have to just pick up the slack and work overtime.
With the way the winter has been, Phillis said the crew is getting tired. In the 25 years he's been with the department, this is the worst he's seen for winter weather. There have been days when some guys were scheduled to be off that they came in and worked anyway.
"That's the type of dedicated guys we have," he said.
He stressed that the part-timers will only be used under dire circumstances to catch up, to help the citizens by getting some things done quicker, like filling in potholes or helping out during paving or leaf pickup. Most of the time, he said he'll probably be using non-CDL workers and will advertise for them in the newspaper.
Committee Chairman Councilman Jeff Cushman said it's important that everybody has the opportunity.