A shortage of public services workers is why some Cincinnati residents may notice trash not getting collected on schedule.
Right now, the department has 72 collection employees, but on any given day, it is short 23 workers because of injuries, vacations and vacant positions. Deputy Director Joel Koopman says each crew is expected to collect from 720 locations in about five-and-a-half hours.
"What's occurring now—because we have to cover these six vacant routes—(is) when someone is getting done, they get assigned a portion of that missing route," Koopman says. "So you may be finishing your 720 (locations); now we're asking you to pick up 900 to 1,000 locations."
Department leaders told city council that if they could hire 10 additional employees it would go a long way toward solving the problem. But hiring new people with a $32 million general fund deficit could be hard to do.
Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman compared the situation to "brown outs" in the fire department, where a piece of equipment is taken out of service for the day because of low staffing.
"We don't have enough resources, the right staffing, so there's going to be periods of time that our sanitation department is going through a brown out, and they're not going to get to those routes," Smitherman says.
The practice of asking crews to cover their regular routes and help with others will likely be coming to an end.
"We're going to start doing hard shutoffs, collection shutoffs—whether it's three o'clock, four o'clock (p.m.)—and then we'll pick-up the next day," says Jerry Wilkerson, director of the Department of Public Services (DPS). "I do beg for the patience of the community and the citizens out there, if your trash is not collected on your trash day, we will come back and get it the next day."
But in a memo late Monday afternoon, Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney told Mayor John Cranley and council there won't be collection "brown outs" in any neighborhoods.
"It is true that there are some employees shortages at DPS that we are actively working to address," Duhaney wrote. "These staffing challenges may occasionally result in missed scheduled pickups for trash or yard waste collection for some residents. However, please know that these missed pickups will be extremely few in number and all missed pickups will be collected by the following service day."
Duhaney wrote the department will "borrow" employees from yard waste to ensure trash on all routes is collected on time.
Wilkerson was testifying to a city council committee about the issue on his first day on the job. He was recently selected to replace Maraskeshia Smith, who stepped down June 1.
Smith's departure came as a "climate assessment" of DPS found the agency "does not have the appropriate personnel to maintain positive change in the workplace."
The same study also found other issues: lack of staffing and vacant positions "negatively impacted the overall staff morale, motivation and efficiency." DPS staff also desired more "robust training opportunities and better prospects for professional advancement."
Wilkerson pledged to begin working on fixing the problems and change the culture of the department.
Smitherman is asking acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney to provide weekly updates to city council on corrective actions being taken in the Public Services Department.