Labor shortage, higher costs strain City of Plaquemine government budget

Staff Report

Staffing shortages and equipment issues have made the current fiscal year one of the toughest in recent history, Plaquemine Mayor Edwin “Ed” Reeves Jr. said last week.

The staffing issues triggered a ripple effect last month when a shortage of meter-readers stretched the billing cycle to 42 days, which brought higher bills and a litany of complaints from customers.

Plaquemine Mayor Ed Reeves

“That hurt all of us, but we were able to work with everyone on that,” Reeves said.

The city has had trouble filling job openings for meter readers in the past year. A crew of four of five is the normal total of meter readers on the job, but that total dwindled to two.

The city pulled workers from other crews to help fill the void during that period, he said.

The recent hiring of two additional workers may ease that strain, but staffing remains a challenge for the city.

The number of unfilled positions reached 12 during the year.

The Public Works Department had the most unfilled positions, which created an additional dilemma for the city.

“That’s the most visible and most needed because that involves grass cutting, weed-eating, park maintenance and things like that,” Reeves said. “They were really behind, and the four weeks in a row with rain killed us, but not much rain the last couple of weeks helped us catch up.”

The staffing issues – and the new demands they bring – add to the city’s challenges.

The city increased its minimum starting salary to $15 an hour, Reeves said.

“We’ve increased all pay according to that, which has cost us quite a bit of money,” he said. “This is the toughest budget year we’ve ever had.”

In addition, the city faces the supply challenges that all private and public entities face in the wake of the pandemic.

A new pickup truck will take up to three years, and a fire truck takes at least 18 months for arrival, Reeves said.

The higher costs further exacerbate the dilemma.

“We can’t get anything done, and it’s becoming hard to govern because it’s so hard to get equipment,” Reeves said. “Some of it has doubled and tripled and price.

“It’s been a difficult year,” he said.

It comes at the same time the city needs an increase on sewer maintenance fees.

He’s hoping the Board of Selectmen will agree to the hike as part of next year’s spending plan to carry out the upgrades for the sewer system.

“If they don’t vote for it, we’re going to let them cut $800,000 because we can’t go without it,” Reeves said.