City searching for wastewater plant operator

Published 9:37 am Friday, July 13, 2012

The city of Ironton is looking for a wastewater treatment plant superintendent after the man who has had that position for more than 20 years handed in his resignation earlier this week.

City leaders Thursday night expressed concern about finding someone qualified to replace him at all and especially given the city’s current salary level for the job.

In a one-paragraph letter to the mayor and city council dated July 6, city wastewater plant supervisor John Haskins advised that his last day of work is July 24. In his resignation letter, he referenced another letter he had written last month to the city, expressing concern about several issues.

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The state of city equipment was one concern. Haskins specified several pieces of equipment that have been broken for years or are aging and need to be replaced.

He also said the lack of manpower has delayed installation of some new equipment the city has purchased.

“The combination of one employee with an attendance problem during the past two years and the recent layoffs resulted in the loss of one position at the wastewater treatment plant causing staffing levels to go to one operator on Thursday and Friday of each week,” Haskins wrote in his June 8 letter. “The staffing issue is not allowing us to complete preventive and scheduled maintenance to prevent future breakdowns, the staff simply keeps up with operations and grass cutting.”

Haskins warned that “the lack of replacing needed equipment and lack of licensed operators will eventually cause permit violations.”

Haskins also took issue with the fact his department, which he said he has always operated within budget, was cut the same as “a department that is always out of budget.” He did not name the other department.

Haskins also mentioned that he has suffered a loss of benefits recently when non-union employees were required to begin paying a portion of their retirement pickup.

Haskins’ departure is likely to cause a new headache for city leaders: The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency requires the city to have a Class 4 wastewater plant operator. While Haskins has only a third-class license he was actively working on his Class 4 certification. The city periodically brought in a Class 4 operator to perform certain documentation duties that only a Class 4 operator is legally allowed to perform until Haskins got his needed certification.

The loss of an employee with very specific, EPA-mandated qualifications was met with concern by some city officials.

“This is catastrophic to the city,” council member Bob Cleary said.

“There are not very many wastewater treatment plant operators,” Mayor Rich Blankenship agreed. “Marietta went through the same thing and had to up the salary to get someone.” Blankenship said he is advertising the position but has had no resumes submitted as of Thursday evening.

Making the situation worse, Haskins’ salary is roughly $54,000 — approximately $12,000 less than the bottom pay elsewhere for the same position.

“Our plant has to have a licensed Class 4 operator,” Cleary said. “To recruit to fill the position it is got to be at least $66,000. I think we have our hands full on this.”