Midcoast Municipalities Struggle With Appropriate Staffing Amid National Labor Shortage

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Freeport Town Hall Doug jones

As the impacts of a labor shortage spread across the country, many municipalities in the Midcoast are also struggling to keep the city operating in good numbers.

State data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Small Area Employment series shows that employment in the local government in Maine declined 6%, or 3,500 employees, when comparing the workforce to June 2019 and June 2021.

This makes local government the fifth largest decline in Maine, behind accommodation at 31%, arts and recreation at 21%, food and drink places at 12% and information at 11%.

In Durham, a city of around 4,000, Chief Executive Officer Kathy Tombarelli said a fire chief’s post is open and the city will soon be looking for a driver and public works worker. . The city also recently hired a new city clerk and deputy treasurer.

“We are in a very competitive job market,” Tombarelli said, noting smaller candidate pools than usual. “It is very difficult to compete with the private sector as well as with the large municipalities in the public sector.

Tombarelli added that hiring incentives at some private companies, like tuition reimbursement and signing bonuses, are difficult to compete with at the smaller municipal level. She also said that it is often difficult to function at normal capacity while training new employees.

Freeport officials recently announced that town hall will experience early closures Monday through Thursday due to a staff shortage.

There are six municipal positions open in Freeport, according to the city’s website Tuesday, with a few examples including that of fire chief, patrol officer, truck driver and deputy city clerk.

“The posts are getting maybe two-thirds or one-half of the amount of interest they would have had two years ago,” said Peter Joseph, City Manager of Freeport, noting that six job postings are more than which is typical.

Joseph said employees in departments with vacant positions were doing a good job of taking over, but it is “not a solution forever.”

According to James Myall, a policy analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy, several problems, some of which are persistent and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, have contributed to the current labor shortage.

Examples include the lack of younger seasonal workers, the lack of younger international workers due to a visa hiatus, low wages, and parents’ inability to find child care.

In Maine in particular, the state’s aging and retired population is also contributing to the shortage. According to a 2018 study by the Population Reference Bureau, Maine has the oldest population in the United States, with 20.6% of the population over the age of 65.

In Brunswick, nine different jobs were listed on the city’s website on Tuesday, some open for multiple positions, ranging from communications officer to seasonal ranger.

“The biggest problem right now has been the number of candidates for the posts,” said chief executive John Eldridge. “But we’re in the same boat with everyone when it comes to this.”

Challenges with vacancies, according to Eldridge, include the inability to do some summer projects, especially in the Parks and Recreation Maintenance Department, which is down by a few members.

Like many other police services, Brunswick Police Chief Scott Stewart said recruiting had been a challenge. There are currently three open police stations and a dispatch post. In addition to these vacancies, said Stewart, the department currently has four officers in training in the field who are not yet working alone, and one officer is on military deployment.

“We had to try to allocate our resources as best we could,” said Stewart. “As a result, we are not able to do as much proactive traffic control in areas as we would like to do. “

Eldridge said that in an effort to attract more officers, the department agreed to bring the holidays forward in advance.

In Bath, the city has had six employees retired in the past six months. They are currently hiring a patroller and a public works mechanic.

“It’s also about retaining the employees we have and making sure people are happy to work for the city and continue to work for the city,” said Deputy General Manager Marc Meyers. “We need to continue to find ways to make this place an attractive place for people to come and work. “

Meyers said the city hires regularly throughout the year, although competition with the booming construction industry and Bath Iron Works presents challenges at times.

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