Delays in the City of Rocky Mount picking up garbage reached the point where City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney gave a statement about the situation earlier this week during the City Council regular meeting.
During Small-Toney’s community update as part of Monday evening’s council meeting, she said the solid waste collection operation has experienced a decline in service levels due to vacancies.
“We currently have 10 vacancies in that particular area,” Small-Toney said. “Two offers were made to candidates today. So I’m hoping that that vacancy then will fall to eight.”
Small-Toney said Operations Manager Tim Farmer is continuing to work tirelessly to fill those vacant positions, one of which is the position of clerk.
“We are also experiencing disruptions in the supply chain for parts and materials for our equipment,” Small-Toney said. “And this is just happening, I think, all throughout the country, Rocky Mount not being an exception.”
Small-Toney said that she and the Public Works Department staff met on Monday morning to discuss the next steps and that they are working with the Human Resources Department to fill those vacancies and to supplement the routes with workers from temp agencies.
Small-Toney also said even that is a struggle, as temp agencies are having difficulty finding people for placement with other organizations such as the City of Rocky Mount.
Small-Toney said she and her team would certainly revisit scheduled hours with the crews and might seek other help within the department as well as the assistance of other departments.
“This will require overtime pay beyond the normal 40-hour week,” Small-Toney said. “And I believe with the vacancies that we have experienced, since we budget our positions 100 percent, that we should have enough money to help pay for the overtime that we are anticipating.”
Small-Toney emphasized that in the meantime residents are encouraged to leave containers at curbside even if that is not the normal service day for the collection of garbage.
“Attempts, of course, will be made to complete the collections that day, but if not that day, certainly the next business day — the next following business day,” she said.
She also said that the city will be communicating via social media and the local code red alerting system, and that plans call for a video to be posted on YouTube to address some of the concerns in the community and provide information about various services.
Councilman Andre Knight asked Small-Toney whether the vacancies are being advertised as part-time or full-time positions. Small-Toney said the positions are being advertised as full-time.
Councilman Richard Joyner asked Small-Toney whether the city is facing similar challenges in other areas.
Small-Toney said no, but she spoke of the difficulty at this particular time for the municipality to fill vacancies.
Small-Toney reiterated her earlier position by saying, “I don’t think it’s anything germane or specific to Rocky Mount. I just think that is the environment in which we’re working in.”
“We’re still trying to recover from the impacts of COVID,” she said.
Later during the public input phase of Monday’s meeting, sanitation worker Arnie Jones spoke of longtime severe understaffing in the garbage collection service and of one man sometimes doing a two-man or a three-man job.
Jones said that he believes a man should be judged on the merits of the amount of work he does daily, and that sanitation workers are essential employees who should pretty much be on the pay scale as those working for the fire department, the police department and public utilities.
“We keep the city clean,” Jones said.
Near the end of Monday’s meeting, Knight said, “I just want to say that we still have a plantation mentality when it comes to the sanitation department when it comes to pay grade, pay raises, promotion and respect of the employees.”
Knight recommended to Small-Toney that she and the human resources and human relations directors meet with and listen to the sanitation employees “because they have some systemic issues” and “some really major issues dealing with disrespect” in terms of how they are being treated.
“And then you will get a better understanding what’s taking place in that department,” Knight said.
Small-Toney reiterated her telling the council on Aug. 23 she plans to present the outcome of a pay classification study for implementation.
“There’s also another component of that, that I instituted, which is to take a look at how employees are evaluated and the amount of percentage (pay) increase per the rating that’s given on the evaluation,” she said.
Small-Toney, noting she signs off on recommendations for pay increases, said, “I could see early on that we have a pattern by which the lower-paid employees hardly ever get an outstanding (rating), hardly ever. And so, part of the recommendation that will be coming into the City Council is to change that.”
She also said there are “some systemic things within the system” she believes have worked against the city for several years.
“And we’re looking to make those kinds of adjustments,” she said. “So I’ll be happy to meet with my sanitation workers, my employees and go through some of these things in a more direct way in terms of what is planned — and look forward to meeting with them, this week probably I would say.”