Public works is facing staff issues

With more than 215 jobs available on Dickinson's Web site alone and a state unemployment rate of 3.2 percent, it should be no surprise city government has openings.

With more than 215 jobs available on Dickinson's Web site alone and a state unemployment rate of 3.2 percent, it should be no surprise city government has openings.

"I don't think we're alone in that," said Ken Kussy, public works manager for street maintenance and solid waste. "I think if you look at the paper today, there's about every industry looking for people...I think we need to really seriously keep on top of that."

For Kussy, however, the challenges are a little bit different.

"Our workforce is getting mature, and we're going to need to seek young recruits and that's going to be more difficult than it has been in the past," Kussy said.

Kussy said the availability of jobs makes it more difficult for him to attract workers.


"I think that's just a sign of the economy; there are more opportunities out there," Kussy said.

One industry in particular is playing a larger role in Kussy's staffing concerns.

"Obviously, we don't compete with the oil companies," City Administrator Greg Sund said.

Both men agree, however, there are some perks to working with the city instead of the oil fields.

"They're paying considerably more money than we are, but our strength is you are home," Kussy said. "Our work has probably been more stable than the oil patch has ever been, so that's a strength there."

Another concern for Kussy is as the city grows, he may need to increase staff as well.

"We're adding streets every year, and we're adding a lot of area, just volume of area we have to serve," Kussy said.

Kussy said he would be looking at adding in almost every area, including maintenance and the landfill.


Because of the availability of jobs, Kussy is also attracting part-time summer help when his department gets busier.

"We've always been able to get a lot of college students coming back and it's getting more difficult to recruit them too," Kussy said.

Kussy said he brings in as many as 16 additional part-time staff members during the summer months.

Although there have been some staff fluctuations during the past year, Kussy said he is currently short only one staff member.

"It hasn't been communicated (to me) that it's been dire," Mayor Dennis Johnson said. "I think the city is just like any employer in the city right now - it's a tight market, and we're all experiencing higher turnover rates than we were accustomed to in the 90s."

Johnson said the salary and benefits package offered by the city is currently competitive with the private sector.

One of the ways Kussy has been able to manage staff is by cross training them.

"Solid waste is separated from street (maintenance), but if we get in a jam we can use, for example, during a snowstorm, we will use solid waste staff to help with snow removal," Kussy said.


Kussy said between the landfill, baling and collection route operations, about half of his 20-member staff has been training in more than one area. Kussy said one way to attract more people is to change the pay scale for those who are cross trained.

"What we may need to look at, as people evolve and they learn these skills, and they become proficient in more than one area, where we can move them along without a whole lot of effort," Kussy said. "The way it is now, you're looking at reclassifications and a lot of structure and it's my hope that we can broadband this."

Kussy said by making it easier to move along the classification scale it would keep wages more competitive and also reward people for moving up the ladder.

"I wouldn't mind having all senior operators, it wouldn't bother me at all, but they're going to have to have the skills to get there," Kussy said. "It wouldn't bother me as an organization to see everyone evolve to that level."

Kussy said there are more options than pay scale and decent hours.

"We're going to maybe encourage the flexible hours concept, where that works better for families," Kussy said. "We've always been fairly strong in our fringe benefit package and we just need to keep plugging away at that."

Kussy said he may also need to consider recruiting people from outside areas or contracting with people from outside the region.

Kussy also said his organization may need to become more of a training organization than it has been in the past.


"There aren't very many (vocational schools) in the area that train toward these kind of professions," Kussy said. "We do have some training opportunities once they get here."

Kussy said he thinks most businesses are doing more training than they have been previously.

Working with other businesses and within the community may be another option for Kussy and his staff.

For right now, Kussy said the staffing concerns are not enough to have an impact on the garbage rates. He said the city is doing well financially and he would only foresee rates changing if additional regulations were established.

"I never tell them never," Kussy said. "I know right now we're doing all right. I don't see any increases of any magnitude."

Both Sund and Johnson said as the budget season approaches each year, the city reviews the pay rates compared to other cities and regions. Sund said for example, in the 2007 budget there was a slightly larger pay increase for the Police Department than other departments because that sector became more competitive.

"The city has to make sure to stay on top of the labor market and understand what happens there," Johnson said. "It's my sense wage rates in the community are going up and that's good."

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