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Commissioners differ over hiring

Andy Ouriel • Feb 2, 2014 at 9:30 AM

A minor squabble between two Sandusky city commissioners underscored a larger problem with the city government.

Commissioners Dick Brady and Wes Poole recently engaged in a brief disagreement during a public meeting about whether or not to provide the engineering department with an additional employee.

Brady supported hiring another worker with an engineering degree to help oversee several ongoing or forthcoming projects.

Right now, there are only two people — an engineer who oversees the department, and a project engineer — working for Sandusky with such credentials.

Dating back to 2013, city engineers either completed or scheduled upwards of $20 million in projects, including street repairs, building demolitions and infrastructure improvements. This amount includes local, state and federal monetary contributions.

Brady argued Sandusky engineer Aaron Klein could use some extra help, since he’s responsible for roads, water, sewer, transit and several other operations and services.

Brady’s fearful a staffing shortage could lead to an oversight or miscalculation of some sort, resulting in city taxpayers covering a large expense to fix a deficiency after a project is completed.

“We need an assistant engineer in this department” Brady said. “Infrastructure in this community is so critically important and can pull us out of this deep hole we’re in”

Poole, however, opted against providing immediate help for engineering at this point.

“I recognize there is perhaps a need for additional assistance, but at this point, we have an entire city of departments with needs,” Poole said, referencing glaring holes in the police and fire departments, among other areas. “I’m not sure it’s in the best interest to cherry pick this need now”

Poole urged commissioners to devise an organizational chart, outlining each city employee’s position and role, before directing additional manpower to a specific area.

Brady seemed to agree.

Ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr. directed city manager Nicole Ard to develop such a blueprint.

Each commissioner agreed on this: The city can’t continue performing at near-ideal levels of service when staffing numbers constantly dwindle.

The city’s work force has steadily decreased during the past decade, dropping 25 percent from 280 employed in 2004 to 209 in December.

Furthermore, a $1.1 million budget shortfall threatens to further reduce city operations this year. City commissioners are likely to lay off at least four full-time firefighters in 2014 to help offset the red ink.

It’s unknown if city commissioners could fund the assistant engineering position when they’re cutting other workers.

Sandusky previously employed a deputy engineer, who earned about $82,000 a year, but commissioners eliminated the position about three years ago.

Officials are also researching whether or not an engineering employee could be funded through a city water account, hovering between $6 million to $7 million a year.

Fees generated from the city’s water customers fuel this account. Several employees receive a portion of their salaries through this fund, which is separate from the city’s $16.3 million everyday operating budget. The operating budget has a $1.1 million shortfall.

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