Three out of the five Granite Shoals Streets and Parks Department employees outside of City Hall. Crew Lead Randy Rodriguez (left) said it can be difficult for workers to maintain the 19 city parks and 90 miles of roads in Granite Shoals. Department employees Tyler Torres and Frank Beltran agreed with his assessment. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey
The Granite Shoals City Council and administration discussed chronic understaffing issues in the city’s Streets and Parks Department during the council’s regular meeting Wednesday, Nov. 16. Competition with other local governments, high insurance rates, and a demoralizing workload were cited as causes for the vacancies.
As of Friday, Nov. 18, only five out of nine positions in the Streets and Parks Department are filled. These five employees are responsible for work and maintenance at 19 city parks and on 90 miles of roads.
Department employees are paid $17 to $20 an hour depending on experience, but a heavy equipment operator with a commercial driver’s license can make up to $22 an hour. Many of the hires end up leaving for higher-paying jobs, according to department Superintendent Ronald “Shorty” Corley.
“A lot of the guys that are leaving right now are going to get twenty-five to twenty-eight dollars an hour elsewhere,” he told the council on Wednesday.
Corley also expressed frustration with taking on inexperienced employees who then leave for higher-paying jobs once they’ve received adequate training with the city, especially in the realm of CDL work or heavy equipment operation. He is currently the only Streets and Parks Department employee who has a commercial driver’s license, meaning he is the only one who can operate the city’s dump trucks.
Another major issue is the high cost of insurance for city staff, which hits lower-wage employees the hardest. Interim City Manager Peggy Smith told DailyTrib.com the city’s insurance plan through the Texas Municipal League costs $1,200 a month if an employee wants to cover their spouse and children.
These high rates could change if Granite Shoals surpasses a threshold of 50 employees, at which point, the city will have more and cheaper options for coverage, Smith said. The city currently has 44 employees.
“We’ve gone too long beating around the bush to help our Streets and Parks Department with the pay and benefits they deserve,” Mayor Aaron Garcia said at Wednesday’s meeting. “They do hard work. We can make it happen. We’ve just got to sit down and take a harder look.”
Possible solutions and obstacles were raised by the council and city staff.
Smith and Corley proposed a short-term fix. They said the city’s current trucks, which require a CDL to operate, could be sold and replaced with smaller trucks that can do the same work without a required CDL.
Fire Chief Tim Campbell recommended reducing the Streets and Parks Department staff by one and splitting the pay among eight workers to increase wages.
Councilor Phil Ort countered Campbell’s proposal, saying that money was not going to solve the problem. He reminded the council that although the city just approved 14 percent raises for staff, Burnet County also raised its average wages and has a higher base pay, so it still offers more.
“We cannot win that battle,” Ort said. “As soon as we give them money, (Burnet County) is going to do the same thing, and they have more than we do. Money is not the option. We cannot go that route because we’ll lose.”
Mayor Garcia expressed frustration with Ort’s point.
“I think that we can’t make decisions based on that scenario, that another city is going to scoop (our employees) up,” he said. “We’re doing a disservice to our employees when they can’t afford insurance coverage for their families.”
Smith also expressed concern over potentially raising the pay for one department’s staff and not others, cautioning that it could lead to demoralization among workers.
“If you’re going to make this department wealthy and wise, you’re going to have these other departments that are going to want to be wealthy and wise,” Smith said. “It’s just not equitable for your employees.”
Councilor Samantha Ortis recognized that the Granite Shoals fire and police departments have found creative ways to use their budgets to hire and retain staff and that there might be a way to do the same for Streets and Parks.
“I see the creative ways these guys make things happen for their departments, and maybe that is something we can look at,” she said.
She also acknowledged the possibility of seeking out different insurance coverage options, rather than sticking with TML.
“Something’s got to be done soon,” Garcia said at the close of the discussion. “It’s going to be a problem if more people start leaving. We’ve got to get things done in the city.”
The council instructed Smith to look into possible solutions for producing more pay and better benefits to Streets and Parks Department employees, which will be addressed at its next meeting on Nov. 30.
“It’s a great city to work for; it’s always busy,” said Streets and Parks Department Crew Lead Randy Rodriguez. “There’s always things to do, and each day is different.”
Rodriguez has been with the city for one year and three months, the longest of any Streets and Parks worker other than Superintendent Corley.
“(The lack of staff) is stressful,” Rodriguez said. “I am the crew lead and maintain all 19 parks and streets. If I steal two people to do patching, then we’re already down two people to maintain parks.”
Rodriguez noted that two of the department’s workers recently left for higher-paying work.