The City of Columbia is working to improve its public works department and water agency by filling more vacancies.
In February, the city resolved issues within its departments, including backlogs of work orders and staffing shortages.
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“I loosened them up a bit because of COVID,” said Columbia resident Isaiah Green. “I think that fired a lot of people.”
Green said getting in touch with someone in town to fix a problem like water leaks, pothole repairs and other issues is a hassle.
“Trying to do other things involving the city of Columbia, it often gets backed up and it often takes a long time for you to get someone on the phone or something,” Green told News 19.
Deputy City Manager Clint Shealy said the city has been able to staff its call center with 25 representatives since February, cutting wait times from nearly 12 minutes to an average of two. The city said it has moved its night and weekend shifts to work during the day, when most calls come in.
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To replace these workers, the city hired a call center service to answer all other calls. The city has also hired more staff, helping them reduce the backlog of work orders from over 4,100 to 3,575.
“We used an expedited hiring process and a temp service, basically to integrate more of our class of workers and employees,” Shealy said. “So on the public works side, it’s been really successful for staffing on solid waste.”
For Columbia Water, which had 207 vacancies in February, filling positions has been difficult for the city, Shealy said. In an effort to motivate applicants and retain current employees, the department is increasing pay by $2/hr and offering $150 to any worker who is on call for the week.
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“We’re taking that money out of the water and sewer revenue fund from the staff budget, and using it for pay raises and custodial allowance,” Shealy said.
Shealy said the water utility is losing and hiring people at the same rate, leaving the agency still in need of nearly 200 jobs. Shealy hopes that a job fair held in April will allow them to reduce the number of vacancies.
“Hopefully they get to a point where they can stay on top of them and they won’t be behind anymore,” Green said.
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