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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

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Stone Harbor Public Works Struggles with Vacancies

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By Vince Conti

STONE HARBOR – The worker shortage has become summer 2021’s defining characteristic. Whether from excess federal unemployment benefits, residual fear contracting Covid through employment that requires close public contact, or a lack of available child care, many county workers have remained out of the work force, causing a bidding war among employers seeking to fill seasonal jobs. The county’s municipalities have not been immune to that struggle. 

In Stone Harbor, the borough tried various strategies to increase the number of seasonal employees it attracts to its Public Works jobs. Even full-time positions in the department have gone unfilled, as towns outbid each other for available workers. 

Stone Harbor Borough Council, at its July 6 meeting, heard that the department, which has 34 full-time positions, has 10 openings. Filling seasonal jobs is equally challenging when individuals hired fail to show up or leave suddenly, in some cases because the employer they were leaving incentivized them to stay. 

In no area of responsibility is the shortage more clearly felt than in solid waste pickup and disposal. According to Public Works officials, 18 positions is the lowest number of employees the department needs to meet traditional obligations for two residential, solid waste pickups a week and 22 filled positions are the more usual compliment. This year, the department has not been able to increase staffing to that number. As of the council meeting, this area of Public Works had 13 filled, seasonal solid waste positions, necessitating a once-a-week residential pickup schedule, with an option for residents to deliver their own solid waste and recycling material to trucks on designated days, if necessary. 

Other areas of department responsibility, including beach maintenance, grounds and janitorial services, suffer if workers are shifted from one area to another to help meet demands. The borough did not help itself when it entered the 2021 year delaying by six months an expected new contract for its Public Works employees due to problems with state budget thresholds. 

Public Works was also the topic when the council introduced an ordinance that would authorize the borough to pay $1.9 million for a property on North Wildwood Road, in Middle Township. The land would be used as a “more suitable location” for “a portion of its Public Works operation.”   

Rapidly rising property values in Stone Harbor mean the Public Works Department is sitting on expensive land, an asset the borough may decide to use in alternative ways as it considers a 10-year financial plan. 

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com. 

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