Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration quietly gave employees of the city’s public works department raises and did away with an incentive plan members of the Mobile City Council hadn’t approved.
During a pre-conference meeting discussion on National Public Works Employees Week, Executive Director of Public Works Jim DeLapp told councilors the city had converted an incentive plan, unpopular with members of the elected body, into raises “two weeks ago” and was working on a plan to incorporate $500 bonuses for department “employees of the month” into the pay structure.
“It could be as early as next month,” DeLapp said of when the employee of the month program might start. “It could possibly be June.”
The raises DeLapp mentioned range from 2.5 percent to 5 percent, depending on the amount of incentives an employee received based on the former program, city attorney Ricardo Woods said. The program included bonuses for attaining a commercial driver license, work attendance and a good safety record.
The issue of employee of the month bonuses has come up before the council during previous meetings. Prior to the Tuesday, May 11 meeting, DeLapp and Woods had previously argued state law didn’t allow the city to give the bonuses to employees participating in the incentive program.
Another issue delaying the bonus program is that public works is made up of six different departments and DeLapp said leadership is still trying to determine whether to give one bonus for all six departments or a bonus per department.
Other city employees, including police officers, firefighters and parks and recreation workers, had received $500 bonuses because of a special monthly recognition. Public works employees, however, specifically those in the public services division, were excluded due to an incentive program the council had at one time voted against.
“I’m glad to learn the incentive pay has gone away,” Councilwoman Bess Rich said, adding a majority of the council had voted against it. A simple majority of the council is all that’s needed to oppose a budget item.
Rich also questioned how the administration found the money for raises without coming to the council first. DeLapp said the department used only funds allocated through the current fiscal year’s spending plan; therefore, a budget amendment was not needed.
Councilman Fred Richardson criticized the administration for the time it has taken to come up with an employee of the month program.
“We don’t need Einstein or a mathematician [to know] how to give the public works employees $500 per month,” Richardson said. “There needs to be a will to do it. If there’s not $6,000 for employees of the month, then write it into the budget and council will approve it.”
News of the raises comes as DeLapp announced a backup in the sector of the department that picks up yard and construction debris on a biweekly basis.
With five trucks out of service, manufacturing delays and a global microchip shortage that has resulted in longer-than-normal wait times for the shipment of replacement vehicles, the city of Mobile’s yard trash collection is almost a week behind schedule, DeLapp told reporters.
Knowing many of the trucks in the public services department were older, the city ordered six new trucks almost a year ago — in June 2020 — and is still awaiting delivery, DeLapp said.
“It’s taken much longer to get the trucks than we anticipated,” he said.
The issue is more complicated because multiple pieces of equipment make up an entire crew, DeLapp said, and if one piece is down it makes it much more difficult for a crew to pick up trash. There’s one truck with an arm that picks up the trash, there’s a trailer and there’s what’s called a shuttle truck that picks up the trailer and replaces it with an empty one.
The new trucks are expected by the end of May. In the meantime, crews that normally pick up yard waste every other week are forced to work longer-than-normal days on the 11 remaining trucks to try to clear trash residents leave on the side of the street.
“Crews are working six days a week, 10 hours a day and working some Sundays,” DeLapp said.
In addition to the microchip shortage and the 18-month delay in getting new equipment, there are several other reasons why trash is delayed, DeLapp said. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there was an uptick in residents using the service because of time at home, he said. Also, the city was impacted by two hurricanes, which also put crews behind.
Residents can help by dropping bagged yard debris off at one of four special sites the city has set up. Those sites are at Medal of Honor Park, Langan Park, Seals Park and Community Center, and Trimmier Park.
The city is also asking residents to hold off on putting out yard debris and other construction waste if possible until the crews get caught up.
“Help us get back on schedule,” DeLapp said.
In the meantime, DeLapp said, the city would make up for the truck shortage by renting vehicles and purchasing two additional trucks that are similar to the ones on order.
Residents who put trash on the curb will not be fined for leaving it out, DeLapp said. The city’s website will keep residents informed on where the trash crews will be picking up on any given day.
Trash is different than garbage; while trash is delayed, the weekly garbage pickup is still on schedule.
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