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Worker Shortage Stresses City Services

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Front facing picture of city hall, blue sky in background.
City Hall is the seat of Montpelier’s city government where there are multiple openings for workers. Photo by Carla Occaso.

City Manager’s Office, Police Department, and DPW All Seek Workers

Need work?

The city of Montpelier is hiring — and the sooner the better. Multiple municipal job vacancies are requiring some departments to rejigger their procedures to meet the needs of citizens, such as the situation in the police department. 

A Shortage of Cops

“Due to current staffing levels, MPD (Montpelier Police Department) will make service and operational adjustments especially as it relates to prioritizing calls for service,” stated an Aug. 6  post on the Montpelier Police Department Facebook page. The post also says that there are no current application submissions. This situation has affected morale and work/life balance of the team as well, since police officers have to work days they had scheduled to have off. 

Additionally, response time to emergency-related service could be longer, especially for lower priority calls. The department is actively seeking four new patrol officers, states a recent report from the city manager’s office. A full-time emergency services dispatcher is being sought as well to handle emergency and non-emergency queries for police. This position also deals with fire and medical calls. However, City Manager William Fraser notes in an email that the city’s worker shortages are the same shortages as “other businesses and organizations in the region, state, and nation.” Still, he says the worker shortage in Montpelier is the biggest operational issue facing the city right now. And it is affecting all departments.

It creates a burden on employees who must pick up the slack or deal with problems caused by delays. The situation is especially notable regarding the police department, where vacant shifts need to be covered, Fraser said. 

“The existing officers and dispatchers can only be asked to fill in so often before they reach exhaustion. In the world of public safety, the most critical errors often occur when employees are overstressed or overtired. We’re trying to balance the health of employees with delivering the services our residents deserve and pay for. The chief and deputy chief are filling active shifts which, of course, pull them away from their oversight and management duties.”

Another big hole in city hall is being created by the departure of Assistant City Manager Cameron Niedermeyer. Her last day will be Sept. 22 after being with the city since 2019. Fortunately, the current assistant city manager is still working so we are maintaining her work, Fraser told The Bridge. 

Also, the Montpelier Senior Activity Center faces challenges providing the meal program along with their general classes and activities. The director is filling the meals program coordinator position while also operating the overall center.

As for filling the positions, Fraser said the police and Department of Public Works positions have been the hardest to fill. 

“There is a major police shortage across the country, which isn’t surprising given the extreme difficulty of the job and the high level of scrutiny on every decision made and action taken. The schedule is not very conducive to family life. In today’s environment, good law enforcement professionals are finding work which is not constantly second guessed, has more normal hours, isn’t as dangerous or stressful, and has comparable pay. As an employer, we need to think about how we can make our police positions attractive. We can’t change the nature of the work or the schedule. Therefore we need to focus on the high quality of our department, pay, and sharing positive aspects of police work,” Fraser said.

Corporal Quesnel and Officer Donovan conduct directed speed enforcement on Elm Street and State Street on Thursday afternoon in response to community requests for increased enforcement in the Montpelier area. Image from the Montpelier Police Department’s Facebook page.
Department of Public Works: Hiring

The Department of Public Works is seeking to fill five positions, including a mechanic and streets maintenance worker, two streets maintenance worker truck drivers, and two water/sewer truck drivers. And that is no joke considering the long list of public works projects underway in Montpelier.

“DPW is also a challenge since they have specific projects and work assignments which require a set number of people to accomplish. And we’ve not yet gone into the snow plowing season where the long hours pile up,” Fraser said.

Upcoming public works projects include:

  • putting in an asphalt joint at the Pioneer Street railroad crossing, which will involve a traffic detour and pavement markings; 
  • reconstructing the railroad crossing on Route 2 between Route 302 and the Barre-Montpelier Road; 
  • work on the Route 2 Montpelier/Berlin town line bridge; 
  • Main Street sidewalk and paving; 
  • continuing planning and design for the Main Street and Barre Street intersection, ideally to include the Barre Street recreational path extension, which has been delayed because of additional state and federal permitting; 
  • other paving projects to include Roberts Street, Phelps Street, Pleasant Street, Valerie Avenue, and Blodgett Avenue; 
  • and fog seal treatments to some roads including College Street and Barre Street between Granite Street and the Pioneer Street bridge. Plus lots more.
“DPW is competing with worker shortages in the contracting business and in neighboring municipal departments. People with commercial driver’s licenses and heavy equipment operating skills are in high demand. Again, we need to ensure a positive work environment and competitive pay,” Fraser noted.

In this current staffing shortage environment, Fraser cannot guarantee topnotch services, saying, “We can’t provide the basic services, new projects, and enhanced priorities as presently expected with staffing at current levels.” The city will have to reassess service expectations if the situation continues, but, he says, “in the short run we will continue to carry on as best as we can.”

Wanted: Building Inspector/Health Officer

Also needed is a building inspector/health officer. The previous building inspector, Chris Lumbra, who served in that role since 2012, was hired as the city’s new sustainability and facilities coordinator, according to a release by City Manager William Fraser dated July 27. The new role was created for Lumbra to focus on improved maintenance and energy efficiency with the city’s goal of achieving good environmental stewardship — namely the implementation of the city’s net-zero 2030 plan.

“Chris Lumbra has done an outstanding job with our building inspection program. He clearly demonstrated his knowledge and commitment to leading the city in meeting our energy goals. His existing professional and community relationships as well as his expertise in building project management will serve him well,” Fraser said.

The city building inspector includes helping guide citizens and developers on “proper practices and standards” for safely building and maintaining buildings in Montpelier. That person will also be responsible for enforcing building codes to make sure all structures are in compliance. That position works under the director of planning and community development in consultation with the fire chief. However, Fraser said the city is unable to launch Lumbra’s sustainability and facilities work until the building inspector position is filled.

Information on Montpelier’s open positions may be found at https://www.montpelier-vt.org/jobs.aspx

Some good news on the hiring front is that Eva Zimet has been hired as restorative outreach specialist for the Community Justice Center. Her job is to work with people who have been affected by crime and assist them through a restorative justice process.

One of many construction sites near Montpelier. Photo by Carla Occaso.

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