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Willmar Council lifts its hiring freeze to fill custodian position

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WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council has lifted its hiring freeze just enough to fill a vacant full-time custodian position.

The council voted 4-2 Tuesday night to approve a request from City Administrator Michael Schmit to fill the position that was left vacant by a retirement, returning the number of full-time custodians to three.

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Schmit repeated the request he made to the council's Labor Relations Committee on Jan. 26 to fill the vacancy because the two custodians were having difficulty completing tasks necessary to maintain the city's 10 buildings. Committee members decided to continue the hiring freeze and asked Schmit to explore options for using part-time, non-salaried employees.

Schmit told council members he would have discussed options at a Labor Committee meeting that had been scheduled for Feb. 16 but the meeting was cancelled.

Schmit apologized and said it would have been better to have had the meeting to finalize the issue and he thanked the council for giving him the opportunity to discuss it.

"We have made every attempt and explored numerous possibilities and options and alternatives and none of them will allow us to accomplish the task to bring some stability and continuity to our maintenance program,'' Schmit said.

"We have two people and it's impossible for them to cover all of our building and maintenance needs. The temporary solutions we looked at won't solve the problem because it does not give us that kind of stability that we need, dependability,'' he said.

Schmit said he looked at a part-time position. He talked to employment agencies and called people who applied for the job when it was advertised as full-time. Schmit said he wasn't asking the council to lift the freeze for all vacant positions, but just for the maintenance position.

Council member Denis Anderson asked who has been doing the work.

Schmit said the city contracted with a cleaning service for the community center, but the service did not remove snow or set up and take down tables for the noon meal program. He said the service would be quitting Wednesday.

"The situation at the community center with the cleaning service pulling the plug has created a new sense of urgency. That's why I'm bringing it back tonight,'' he said.

Council member Rick Fagerlie asked if Schmit could hire someone for three hours a day for that shift. Schmit said he tried to find people, but no one was interested if benefits were not included. He said employment agencies would provide someone for $12.50 to $13.50 per hour, but the city's starting wage is $10 per hour.

Fagerlie said he told cleaners who receive from $7.25 to $9.50 an hour at the "big box stores'' about the city opportunity. Schmit asked how difficult it would be for them to juggle their schedule to meet the city's needs.

"That's what I talked about in needing consistency and stability,'' he said. "There is a reason some people don't score high (in the city's scoring system). I don't know if we want to consider those folks.''

Council member Ron Christianson asked what the individual will be doing. He said people in the private sector are told to suck it up and help out wherever they can. "It's just a fact of life these things are happening because of the economy,'' he said.

Schmit said the fire station, community center and city office building are primary concerns, as well as the city auditorium, public works garage, the administration building at the old wastewater treatment plant and the new administration building at the new treatment plant, the WRAC 8 office and occasionally assisting at the Civic Center.

The city has 104 employees, a net increase of three over a 1991 total of 101 employees, and has 16 vacant positions: eight firefighters, two maintenance, two police, one engineering, one assessing, one airport manager, one public work, 0.2 fire department clerical.

Council members voting to approve the request to fill the custodian post were Anderson, Christianson, Doug Reese and Steve Ahmann.

Voting against were Fagerlie and Tim Johnson.

Bruce DeBlieck was excused and Jim Dokken was absent due to illness.

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David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150
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