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Warren keeps laborers on-call to limit exposure

WARREN — The city has ordered many of its laborers to stay home — with pay — so long as they are prepared to go out if called for assignments.

City employees who can do their jobs from their homes have been ordered to do so, at their regular salaries.

Safety Service Director Eddie Colbert said he began looking at reducing the number of people working in various departments at any one time when it became clear there would be statewide efforts to reduce the number of people interacting with one another.

Colbert said Mayor Doug Franklin ordered him to develop contingency plans during this period that COVID-19 is continuing to spread.

Colbert said his goal was to stay one step ahead of what could happen under this pandemic. He said about 65 percent of the city’s employees are either working at home or on call.

“I don’t want to watch a press conference and then have to react,” he said. “I don’t want to be caught flat-footed.”

Several weeks ago, Colbert asked department heads to submit plans.

“I requested departments to identify positions in which employees could work from home,” he said.

Laborers in the operations and other departments have been told to remain at their homes with their phone and to be ready to report to assignments.

“We have a system where office phones can be transferred to cell phones, so when someone calls the operations department they can be transferred to one of the cell phones,” he said.

Colbert said the laborers have been divided into crews.

“The idea is if one crew is affected by the virus, we have the other crew available to work,” Colbert said. “On Sunday (March 29), when we received word that our parks were flooding, I called our department head to send a crew out to close the roads into the parks.”

SPENDING PRACTICES

At the same time some workers await work calls at home, city Auditor Vince Flask said Warren ended all nonessential spending several weeks ago. He said it is concentrating on payroll, as well as materials that are essential in keeping residents safe, such as chemicals needed by the water and waste water departments.

Flask said because the city has not laid off any employees because the virus, its payroll has remained the same this pay period as the previous pay period.

“The last general fund payroll was $507,600.63 and the city’s enterprise departments had a payroll of $270,713.55 for a total payroll of $778,314.18.

“The director and the deputy auditor have been reviewing all purchase orders with greater scrutiny and asking for justification for purchase requests,” Flask said.

Departmental budgets are not broken down by essential or nonessential items, but by wages, fringe benefits, contracted services, supplies, maintenance, capital expenditures and miscellaneous items.

“Anything deemed nonessential would fall under one of the categories,” Flask said.

The city treasurer’s office has not seen indications withholding of taxes have been significantly impacted by what has been happening because of the coronavirus.

“We will have a better sense in mid-May when we will have April’s withholding numbers,” Flask said.

OTHER DEPARTMENTS

In other Warren departments, such as fire, it was decided that firefighters would be assigned to work at particular fire stations.

“We do not want firefighters to go from one station to another,” Colbert said. “If firefighters or members of their families are suspected to have COVID-19, we possibly would have to close down the fire department if firefighters continued to move from one station to another. We don’t want any cross-contamination.”

By having firefighters assigned to specific stations, if there is a problem, it is isolated to one station and will not affect the entire department, Colbert stressed.

“There is nothing that could be done with water, wastewater, sanitation or the police departments,” Colbert said. “We have to provide those services.”

He said, however, some secretaries and office personnel in the water, wastewater and sanitation departments are working from home — but not those employees who are critical to trash pickup, providing water and cleaning wastewater.

“What I have been doing is what I believe is best for the city and its employees, while maintaining the mandate ordered by Gov. (Mike) DeWine,” Colbert said. “This is something that I cannot call my predecessors to get their advice on how they did things. It is unprecedented.”

“The goal, of course, is to provide our residents services expected by them,” Colbert said. “We’ve sent laborers from the operations department and the water department to different sites this week to address issues. We have not had any problems getting the work done.”

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