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Staffing poses concern at water plants

The city may soon lack sufficient staff at its water and wastewater plants as at least four veteran employees are expected to retire in less than two years.

Paul J. Drof, water and wastewater superintendent, said Tuesday that there could be as many as six retirements of operators and supervisory personnel by 2009.

"We have no one waiting in the wings to move up to those positions," Drof said during a Common Council work session. The average age of his work force is 54, and there are significant training requirements, especially for employees at the wastewater plant, Drof said.

New employees at the plants, depending on their education, would require between one and 10 years to receive a necessary operating license, he said.

Drof stressed he wants to begin the hiring process in the fall because of the amount of lead time needed before a position can be filled.

Drof told the Council he has money in his current water plant budget to make a new hire. He does not have sufficient funding available, however, to hire a new employee at the wastewater facility.

Council President Brett M. Sommer advised Drof to wait for both the mayor and the Council to conclude their work on the 2008 budget.

Hiring a new employee or two later this year would not be a good idea if the city won't fund those positions next year, Sommer said.

Other municipalities, including Niagara Falls and the Town of Tonawanda, are also facing this type of pressure in the work forces of their water and wastewater facilities, according to Drof.

"We're right at the knife's edge right now," he said.

In 2006, the Council approved paying for academy training for four new hires in the city's Fire Department in preparation for expected retirements.

Last month, the Council learned that fire officials expect six retirements over the next year. Mayor Lawrence V. Soos said at the time he supports a plan to continue preparing for retirements by hiring ahead of time.

In other business, City Treasurer Robert G. Ortt updated the Council on plans to offer residents the option of paying taxes and bills online, as well as with credit cards.

Ortt said he plans to invite a representative of Systems East, a Cortland-based company, to a Council meeting to discuss the services it can provide.


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