“We are authorized to have four solid waste full-time employees,” Svaby said. “I have just passed the one-year mark in this position and we have never had more than two in this department. There is very low interest in this position, and we have considerable turnover. Since 2018, there have been 11 people hired yet we only have two full time staff.”
Svaby explained that many people are unaware how physically demanding the positions are in solid waste. Many consider it to be easy because the department uses trucks with automatic arms. However, employees must still get in and out of the truck, roll cans back and forth, tip cans and do other things that can be very physically demanding.”
Another factor that is causing issues with solid waste collection is that the city has three automatic trucks as well as a fourth that is an old-fashioned version requiring someone to do what is called “slinging” of the cans. Svaby stated that they try not to use that truck, but because one of the automatic trucks was in the shop for a repair that is expected to take as much as eight weeks, they have been forced to use the manual truck as well.
“Just recently we had someone out for a few weeks with COVID exposure and another out due to a death in the family,” Svaby said. “This led us to pull in from other departments. They did an amazing job, but they had to completely learn routes, learn how to use the truck and I am sure some of you got calls from customers complaining of missed pickups. They did the best they could and if we heard of a missed pickup, we tried to get out and get it the next day. We huddle every morning to see how we are going to get these trucks on the road. If one of our employees is out, we are pulling two to five from other departments. This is going to continue lowering efficiency to customers.”
Svaby offered an alternative that would help alleviate some of the stress on the department. He suggested reaching out to private contractors to determine if they would be willing to take over the entire solid waste service or possibly a portion of what the city provides.
“For example, the private company could take over recycling,” Svaby said. “This would eliminate one-third of the pickups we have to make, dropping that by almost 2,000. We are also hoping that we can fill these positions. We had a good interview last week for a possible third candidate and if they accept, that will put us in much better shape.”
Mayor Archie Campbell suggested reducing the number of recycling pickups as Svaby explained the law only required it be picked up once a month while the city is doing it more often.
“We have all these things on the television and on radio about us being short-handed,” Mayor Campbell said. “What if we just let the citizens know that we need to scale back services temporarily until the staffing shortage changes? We are in a crisis right now and people need to understand that services may suffer. The extra $600 a week ended this Wednesday or will next Wednesday. Now that it is ending, people may be out looking for work.”
Svaby and City Manager Mark Whitfield presented the information to City Council for informational purposes.
“Our main goal here tonight is to give you an idea what we are dealing with right now,” Whitfield said. “We talk this out on an almost daily basis about how we are going to deal with things. We wanted you to know the challenges we are facing. If there are any changes, we will bring them back to you, but wanted you to be updated.”
Councilman Jason James suggested looking at temporary solutions as well as permanent.
“If we have a problem now that needs to be solved, let’s find a solution and get it done,” Councilman James said. “If we need to tell them we can only do recycling every other week, that is what we have to do. Yard waste stops in November so that will help somewhat. Maybe we can do a temporary solution as we work on a long-term solution.”
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