Friday, August 12, 2022

Staffing woes at Wrightsville Beach Public Works cue proposal for pay raises, reshuffling

The Wrightsville Beach Public Works Department has been unable to fill five open positions, leading to a staffing shortage that has strained senior employees. (Port City Daily/Preston Lennon)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH –– Facing a substantial shortage of workers and difficulty recruiting new personnel, the head of Wrightsville Beach Public Works has implored town leaders to green-light a plan that would boost wages within the department. 

Five of the 26 positions in the public works department are vacant, and there have been no applications submitted for any of the openings, Bill Squires, public works director, said at Thursday’s board of aldermen meeting.

Of the 21 filled positions, five employees are at or nearing retirement eligibility, and 10 people in the department have one year or less of experience there. 

“Our goal is always to hire the most qualified applicant, but unfortunately, for the last few years, we’ve been forced to lower our standards, which has resulted in less-than-qualified staff and added pressure on senior employees,” Squires said at the meeting. “This practice is not sustainable and ultimately reduces the quality of service provided for our residents and guests.”

The public works department, which consists of utilities and infrastructure maintenance positions, lost one of its leading superintendents to resignation, Squires said. Rather than rehire another, he proposed the department reshuffle its structure and raise pay across the board to aid in retaining and attracting employees. The department has lacked a full staff for several years, he added. 

The open positions include a sanitation driver — whose pay would be bumped up from $14.13 per hour to $16.36 under the proposed plan. Also unfilled are posts for a maintenance technician, a mechanic, and two roles under the water and sewer umbrella. 

For the technician position, Squires proposed raising the starting pay from $14.13 to $18.03. The two water and sewer positions would have their starting rates bumped up around $2 per hour, while the mechanic position would stay at a $17.17-per-hour starting salary. 

The public works director himself would also receive a raise, from $40.11 per hour to $42.12 per hour, equating to a pay grade with an $81,928 midpoint annual salary. As written, the proposal would save $2,636 from the budget by redistributing most of the resigned superintendent’s salary to the other positions in the department.

Existing positions would be given a raise in an effort to keep employees at Wrightsville Beach. One driver — who had been with the department five years and was one of its top employees — recently left to work at a private company, where the pay is $5 more per hour, Squires said. 

Hank Miller, mayor pro tem, asked Squires why action should be taken now, in the offseason, when the strain on town services is meager compared to during the height of summer tourist season. 

“Let me remind you of something that just happened recently,” Squires responded. 

“There were a couple days where the sanitation route didn’t get picked up. They didn’t have enough employees,” he told the board. “We’re still right on that edge. You get two people calling in sick, you’re going to lose services.”

Mayor Darryl Mills was hesitant to immediately move forward on Squires’ proposal. Allowing the reshuffling — despite the non-impact to the budget — could entice other departments to make mid-year proposals of their own, effectively creating a secondary budgetary process within town governmental channels. 

“We will consider this,” Mills told Squires. “We’re not going to take action tonight.”

Miller told Port City Daily the town needs to look closely at its salaries offered but across the board, not in relation to a single department. He added that there have been thoughts floated about potentially privatizing the trash collection system. 

“The town has to look at staffing, not in a vacuum, but as a whole,” Miller said. “We can’t give mid-year raises to one department and not look at the whole thing; it’s just not the right way to do it.”

This breakdown shows the list of positions within the Wrightsville Beach Public Works Department, as well as the proposed pay raises for employees. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Wrightsville Beach)

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