Municipalities across the state have struggled to maintain staffing levels across departments, citing a combination of factors that have made it harder to fill vital positions.
Local administrators blame a tough labor market, pandemic woes and other compounding problems, as well as the need to boost wages and benefits wherever possible to hire and retain staff.
Manchester chief executive Steve Stephanou said the hiring difficulties had yet to impact city services, but the situation had put a strain on existing city staff.
“When you look at police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other frontline workers like our Public Works and Water and Sewer Services workers, they have always had a tough job, and these two years were particularly difficult,” said Stephanou.
Stephanou said Manchester is facing 14 vacancies in its fire service and 11 in its police service, including seven vacant dispatcher positions out of the 18 the city has budgeted.
Stephanou said it was already difficult to get dispatchers before the pandemic hit, in part because of high turnover on the pitch.
“They are an essential, and I think underappreciated, component of general emergency response,” Stephanou said.
East Hartford Dispatch Supervisor Joe Marchese said that while the city is only short of two of its 19 budgeted dispatchers, East Hartford only had 12 dispatchers when it started in the city there. five years old.
Marchese said while there were only a dozen dispatchers, the city had to fill shifts with overtime and even cut vacations to keep up with demand.
Marchese said that since then, East Hartford has been able to bolster its staff, which serves as the “backbone” of public safety and the frontline of information.
“Our precision can sometimes mean life or death, not just for police officers, firefighters or paramedics, but also for the public,” Marchese said.
East Hartford Mayor Mike Walsh said the city is always looking for dispatchers, even when they’re fully employed.
Walsh said the city is experiencing an “elimination” rate of about 50%, in part because the job requires a “special type of person” who has proven difficult to find.
“You need to be able to multi-task in a high-stress environment and deliver critical communications under pressure, and we’ve found not everyone is cut out for that,” Walsh said.
Walsh said the city has had trouble hiring his vacant mechanic positions in his police department.
“Our fleet garage has over 100 police cars and about 400 pieces of gear in total, and we’re really down to one mechanic,” Walsh said.
Vernon City Administrator Michael Purcaro said the city had eight vacancies for sworn police officers, of the 50 in the city budget, which forced the department to increase overtime and to focus on basic policing functions.
“It’s OK in the short term, but in the long term it’s not sustainable,” Purcaro said. “Police officers want to be challenged professionally, whether it’s the SWAT team or school resource officers.”
Purcaro said that in addition to general hiring issues affecting all areas, recent police liability legislation has also affected hiring.
“There are additional external societal pressures that have been brought to bear on law enforcement that have prevented people from wanting to become police officers,” Purcaro said.
Purcaro said as a result, the city looked “beyond traditional boundaries” in hiring officers, going so far as to hire a transfer to Florida.
“We’re looking far,” Purcaro said.
Purcaro said the increased use of emergency medical services during the pandemic, combined with fewer people on the ground, created a “perfect storm,” forcing Vernon to hire full-time paramedics for the first time. The city also trains volunteer firefighters in-house, so interested applicants don’t have to travel to the state fire academy at Windsor Locks.
South Windsor City Manager Michael Maniscalco said while the city isn’t particularly concerned about the size of its police force, some positions the city is struggling to fill may be critical to public safety. and city operations.
“From a core functions perspective, almost all of them are core…there’s not a single part of that lying around there,” Maniscalco said.
“Imagine if we didn’t have an appraiser who could sign on a big list, then we couldn’t collect taxes, and if we couldn’t collect taxes, we couldn’t pay the cops.”
Maniscalco said a major problem in finding staff across departments is the lack of required certifications among potential candidates, as many certification programs were shut down, along with other departments, during the outbreak. the pandemic.
“A number of these people who would have held these jobs throughout the pandemic, were not eligible or could not take these courses to obtain these certifications with the state,” Maniscalco said.
East Windsor’s first coach Jason Bowza said the issues underscore the need for municipalities to have a succession plan, particularly for positions required by law, with a “shortage” of qualified candidates such as planners, building officials and city clerks.
“Many, if not most, municipalities recognize that this is an issue they need to be prepared for,” Bowza said.
Bowza said that if a city doesn’t have an assessor, an assessor’s office has support staff who take on many duties. Cities can also hire evaluators during budget season to sign a large list, but it would be hard to do without a plan.
“If you don’t think about it before you’re confronted with it, you’re months and months too late,” Bowza said.