NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board is dealing with more than just 17 broken drainage pumps and four turbines out of service. It is also facing a manpower shortage.
"We have 300 and something spots open, and we're closing that at eight people a month, which takes a lot of years to close that number," former Board President Pro Tem Scott Jacobs said during a July 19 board of directors meeting.
Jacobs resigned after he felt Mayor Mitch Landrieu was forcing employees to unfairly take the blame in the wake of the Aug. 5 flood, according to our partners at NOLA.com | The Times Picayune.
At the July meeting, Jacobs, along with other board members and a representative from Mayor Landrieu's office, discussed how there could be more than 300 vacant positions, many of which are skilled labor jobs.
"It's going to be years before that closes," Jacobs said.
Currently, the Civil Service Commission has certain requirements that restrict who the S&WB can hire. Employees must live within Orleans Parish for at least 180 days before being hired, and employees must earn certifications for certain skilled labor positions.
Also, S&WB employees are qualifying for retirement or moving to the private sector, which has left the agency short-staffed, creating a backlog of projects. As projects pile up, S&WB pays private companies to complete them.
"I think there is also another added complication, which is competition with the private sector. As there are just more opportunities in business activity in water management, there's going to be more competition, and the irony is that the Sewerage and Water Board is competing with its own contractors," board member Robin Barnes said.
After a Lee Zurik investigation, the Inspector General's office recommended restrictions on the amount of overtime S&WB employees can earn, and the agency adopted those recommendations. Jacobs said many times the effort to save money costs the agency more in the long run.
"While the overtime numbers are forced down by the limits, I think last month we had to step in with two pretty large contract change orders, very large change orders, to do field work that we would often do ourselves. It has been mentioned before, this is made-up numbers at this point, but it is not going to be far off. We might save a million dollars in overtime and spend three million dollars on contractors to do that, but we successfully cut our overtime," Jacobs told the board.
FOX 8 reached out to Mayor Landrieu about the manpower shortage but have not gotten a response.
In a release Tuesday, the city said it is partnering with the engineering firm CH2M and that four additional pump operators from the firm have been hired and are beginning training.