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January 25, 2011

 

Wastewater board says plant understaffed

By JEREMY HOUGHTALING
Staff Reporter
jhoughtaling@cortlandstandardnews.net

The Cortland Wastewater Treatment Board expressed concern Monday over Common Council’s blocking of new hires for the understaffed treatment plant, and warned that it could lead to fatigue and accidents.
John Troy, the chairman of the board for over 20 years, called the lack of hirings “frustrating,” especially since the board has limited ability to make recommendations to the city Common Council.
“It’s definitely one of the most pressing concerns,” Troy said.
He said without the needed manpower, it would be easy for the plant to get behind on maintenance, and have staff hurrying to finish their assignments, making it more likely accidents could happen.
“We’re in a crisis here,” board member Paul Lorenzo said, adding that the plant has been understaffed for at least two years. “Someone could be hurt here.”
Troy said he has e-mailed some of the aldermen, and asked them to lift the hiring freeze at the Oct. 5 council meeting. At that meeting, the council lifted the hiring freeze for one of two proposed new laborers.
“We haven’t been asked to be involved, and it’s a shame,” Troy said.
Maintenance Supervisor Tom McCall said that although the plant is highly automated, there is still a need for staff to maintain and fix the aging buildings and equipment. He estimated that if the plant were to be completely rebuilt today, it would cost about $60 million — one of the city’s most valuable assets.
“To take care of the equipment, we need people,” McCall said.
Davis said that all of the positions he has asked for have been budgeted for.
There are currently eight operators at the plant, and one of the operators is set to retire at the end of March. Ten operators have been budgeted for in 2011.
McCall was at the last council meeting Jan. 4 in place of Chief Operator Harvey Davis, and was not asked any questions in regard to the proposal to lift the hiring freeze.
The council declined to lift the hiring freeze for two laborers at the Jan. 4 meeting.
In October the council approved hiring a replacement senior keyboard specialist, but in December, the council tabled a proposal to lift the hiring freeze for a laborer after confusion over how many positions were budgeted for.
The council and Davis have disagreed over the recommendations put forward in a staffing study done by Syracuse engineering firm Barton & Loguidice.
The study asked for specialized positions, such as a full-time lab technician and electrician, while Davis said it does not make sense to pigeonhole workers into certain positions. Davis said cross-training is valuable so the workers can climb the ladder for more certifications, which boosts morale.
McCall said cross-training helps show the workers how the different parts of the plant interact, and makes it easier to fill other roles if someone is sick or on vacation.

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