Correction: Near the end of the story, dates in a paragraph about CL&P were inadvertently reversed. CL&P paid more in taxes in 2014 than 2013.
NORWALK, Conn. – Public Works is hurting for help, Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord said recently. One reason is a grievance filed by union members, although that’s not the way Alvord painted it to Common Council members.
Alvord said at the Dec. 2 Public Works Committee meeting that he’s asking for a permit engineer, an assistant civil engineer and a driver as new positions in the next operating budget. He went on to say that his department would be down three equipment operators by the end of the month, and there is a tool keeper vacancy. He said DPW would be living with those vacancies for some period of time because Personnel Director Emmet Hibson had said he couldn’t hire anyone who isn’t a city employee already.
Although Alvord said he didn’t know why, Hibson said this week that it’s because of a union grievance, something he has made clear to DPW.
Alvord said the equipment operators and tool keeper also plow snow.
DPW will also have a traffic maintenance supervisor vacancy and two laborer position vacancies, and Principal Engineer Dick Linnartz is retiring next spring.
“We don’t fill anything very quickly. In fact, on the equipment operators I don’t have any qualified in-house candidates and I can’t hire outside so we’re going to be living with these vacancies for some period of time, so getting a lot of work done is just going to be a real challenge,” Alvord said.
Jerry Petrini (R-District D) asked why employees couldn’t be hired from outside.
“I don’t know. The personnel director tells me that he can’t hire outside,” Alvord said.
“Even after you’ve exhausted everyone?” Michelle Maggio (R-District C) asked.
“By the contract we’re allowed to have a training and testing program to qualify people for the position,” Alvord said. “Each May we run a program. This past May we ran 10 through program, two qualified. Those have already been promoted. So I have two vacancies now that I don’t have anybody internally qualified for. By the contract I should be able to go out and hire from the outside but I can’t, the personnel director says he can’t. So I am sitting, either I go to train these people again to bring them up to qualification or whatever.”
Petrini suggested that Maggio bring it up at the next Personnel Committee meeting.
David McCarthy (R-District E) agreed. “Things are hard enough without being ridiculous,” he said.
The Personnel Committee does not meet often. It has met four times this year, the last time in September. December’s meeting has also been cancelled.
This week, Hibson answered an NoN email asking why Alvord cannot hire from outside. He said:
“The equipment operator position is part of Local 2405 bargaining unit. The contract requires that before a position is hired from the outside, it must be bid and internal qualified candidates must be offered the position. The contract allows there to be a training and evaluation process approved by the human resources director to determine if a candidate is qualified.
“Prior to my arrival Hal worked with Jim (Haselkamp) to develop a program. The program was administered in the spring and Hal promoted those candidates who ‘passed’ and asked for permission to seek outside candidates to fill the remaining positions. The union grieved the training and evaluation process and based on that grievance I informed Hal he could not hire outside candidates.
“I asked Hal to detail the training components of the process and based on his response I have asked him to take some steps to train additional internal candidates. Until I see steps taken and the candidates re-evaluated the Department will not be able to hire from the outside. This has been made clear to the Department so I would assume Hal would have explained that in his original response.”
Alvord also said on Dec. 2 that a permit engineer would pay for itself, as Yankee Gas would be able to get more infrastructure improvements done and would therefore pay more in property taxes to the city.
“They had meeting with the mayor about how difficult it is to get permits to do their capital replacement out there. They are correct. I have one permit inspector and I have one junior engineer diverted into permits full time because I need somebody doing the permitting full time. … If we can get more permits out to them they could get more work done,” Alvord said.
He said that he thought Yankee Gas paid $400,000 to $500,000 more in property taxes in 2014 than it did in 2013. “A permit engineer is $80,000, so $400,000 in additional property tax if in fact we can get permits out there, which we have a really hard time doing,” he said.
Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said the tax department had a similar situation for years – an additional employee meant more revenue coming in.
“I think we should be able to do whatever we can, at least for this position,” Kimmel said. “We can’t play games here Hal, if we get the permit engineer but we still get the civil and the driver, this year, the permit engineer will still be free to do what a permit engineer is supposed to do?”
“I will probably still have to augment him at least part time with a junior engineer. There are more permits than one person can handle,” Alvord said.
Mayor Harry Rilling on Friday said that he didn’t know if DPW would get more employees next year.
“I have to look at it – how many they have, where their openings are, whether their openings are necessary or not,” he said. “This is a difficult budget year and we’re going to have to do everything we can to toe the line on taxes and make sure that we don’t spend money frivolously.”