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City looks to retain electrical division employees

Staffing and retention of employees in the city’s electrical division was a major subject of discussion at Monday’s meeting of Albemarle City Council.

North Carolina ElectriCities Vice President of Human Resources Melissa Miranda, who spoke to council by phone, and Albemarle Human Resources Director Dana Chaney presented the board with information on trends and challenges specific to public power workers.

Miranda noted that although the labor market is near full employment, the unemployment rate for many key roles in public power provision is just 1 or 2 percent, while job openings remain at high levels.

As a result, Albemarle and other cities have found retention of experienced and qualified workers to be difficult.

“The city has, and will continue to encounter challenges in retaining skilled labor,” Miranda said.

Albemarle has lost electric workers to surrounding cities that provide public power, such as Monroe, which pay higher wages, said Chaney, who noted the city’s electrical division, because of a shortage of crew leaders, was forced to call in outside assistance to help with system repairs following the recent tornado.

“The city incurred greater expense as a result,” she said.

Proposed to council was a plan for short-term compensation adjustments (a 7 percent pay increase effective April 1 for the 19 employees of the city’s electric division), which will be absorbed by the current year Public Utilities Department budget.

Future measures would include planning for a full compensation study, with
implementation of adjustments for at least one-third of the city’s entire employment base to be addressed over a three-year period.

The proposal passed by a unanimous vote.

Homicide Investigations

Police Chief David Dulin presented a report on homicides investigated by the Albemarle Police Department over the past 10 years.

“We have had 11 homicides within the Albemarle City Limits during this period,” said Dulin, “and six of these have been solved.”

Dulin noted that in all cases, the department has reached out to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) for assistance.

“They (SBI) have resources that we can utilize, and their assistance with crime scene investigation in the early stages is invaluable,” he said.

Stanly County Crimestoppers has also assisted by raising and providing funds for rewards to those who provide key information that leads to convictions.

“Currently, there are $2,000 rewards available to anyone who can provide information that leads to convictions on our five open cases,” said Dulin.

But, according to Dulin, a “no snitch” culture seems to discourage many who have witnessed crimes, or who may have information on them, from coming forward to authorities.

“It’s an uphill struggle to get people to talk,” he said.

“How do we break this cycle of not talking?” asked Councilman Dexter Townsend.

“I’d say to all council members, encourage your constituents to cooperate with us (police),” said Dulin, who explained that by using the city’s tip line, those with information can provide it anonymously.

Virus Update

Near the conclusion of the meeting, City Manager Michael Ferris reported on the city’s efforts to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“We have two primary goals,” said Ferris. “First is to continue to provide critical services to our citizens, and second, to keep our employees safe.”

“We have suspended all Parks and Recreation activities and programs, and have closed our two community centers,” said Ferris, who noted that parks and outdoor facilities remain open to the public.

Utility cut-offs for delinquent accounts have also been suspended temporarily, Ferris said, and added that the delay in cut-offs does not relieve residents of their obligation to pay.

“The bill doesn’t go away,” he said.

City employees who can work from home are being encouraged to do so, and city staff are participating in planned conference calls with state and emergency management officials, Ferris said.

Three related motions were unanimously passed by council to conclude the public portion of Monday’s meeting.

These included:

● A motion to continue the suspension of utility cut-offs until resumption of such is deemed appropriate.

● A resolution to allow city employees up to two weeks leave for family obligations caused by closing of schools, day cares, etc. Employees will be required to provide justification for such leave.

● A motion granting authority to the city manager and management team to make necessary decisions for the continuing operation of city services as the coronavirus situation evolves.

Council members then entered a closed session to discuss personnel and economic development matters.

The next regular meeting of the council will take place on April 6 at 7 p.m.

Toby Thorpe is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News & Press.