As the Permian Basin boomed last year, the City of Odessa faced a familiar problem: A struggle getting workers who can make more in the oilfield.
The city reported 133 vacant positions in late March — up from 88 a year ago. Some departments face greater shortages than others, such as utilities, where the city has 42 positions for workers who handle jobs like water and sewer line repairs. Nearly a quarter of those positions are unfilled.
“We’re hardly getting any applicants — we’re just not seeing that,” said Public Works and Utilities Director Tom Kerr.
Kerr said it’s particularly difficult to recruit employees who have a commercial driver’s license or skills operating heavy machinery, which can be valuable in the oilfield.
The shortages so far are not as severe as during the previous boom that ended with the oil price crash of late 2014.
But it is another sign of strain re-emerging with the latest boom: Crowded classrooms, a tight housing market, rising rents and increased truck traffic on roads. Business owners report trouble finding workers too.
“We are keeping up with the necessary services that we provide, but we certainly need more workers,” Interim City Manager Michael Marrero said.
The city, with 1,001 budgeted positions, has long dealt with the boom-bust staffing dynamic and touts job stability and employee benefits as reasons workers should join the city and stay there.
Historically, the city loses employees during a boom and fills vacancies during a bust.
In January 2015, for example, the city reported more than 160 vacancies including emergency workers like police officers and firemen. Two years later there were nearly half as many open positions.
“As this happens we’ll lose people and then they’ll come back,” Marrero said. “Some of them will come back.”
Today, city administrators say the city isn’t falling behind on critical services like public safety or garbage collection because of the vacancies.
But in some cases, that means paying employees overtime to make sure shifts are covered. Other city work that deals less directly with the public, such as in-house maintenance projects, has also faced delays because of worker shortages.
To help, Marrero said the city is considering contracting out some work traditionally done by the city like repairing water lines.
On Tuesday, Odessa City Council members discussed ways they could shore up staff such as a new marketing effort or increasing pay for certain difficult-to-fill positions using one of the fruits of a boom — a surge in sales tax revenue ahead of the upcoming budgeting season.
“We’ve got 3 percent unemployment,” District 2 Councilman Dewey Bryant said. “Where’s the workforce at? You can’t find it.”
IN OTHER BUSINESS, THE CITY COUNCIL ON TUESDAY:
- Approved awarding a more than $423,000 contract to MRB Contractors of Irving to repair five roofs in the June storm last year that brought baseball-sized hail. The roofs that will be repaired are on two fire stations, the Sherwood Park Community Center and two utilities buildings.
- Discussed in a briefing session before the council meeting enforcement of the new truck routes ordinance, an update to the city’s financial report, an art program at City Hall and agenda items for the meeting.
- Approved City Council minutes from the March 27 meeting and the April 3 finance committee meeting.
- Approved authorizing the Odessa Police Department to accept an overtime reimbursement from the United States Marshals office a total of more than $18,000 for task force officers to find fugitives and for an operation.
- Approved authorizing the Odessa Police Department to accept a grant from the governor’s office for rifle-resistant body armor.
- Approved rejecting bids that came in over budget for renovation projects for the Slator Park and Sherwood Park community buildings.
- Approved a more than $82,000 contract for city-wide copier machines.
- Opened a public hearing and approved for the second and final time a request by Leeco Energy & Investments for a specific use permit to allow a salon or boutique in an Office Zoning District west of the intersection of East Ridge Road and Parks Legado Road.
- Opened a public hearing and approved for the second and final time a request by SMBC Leasing & Finance Inc. for original zoning of Planned Development-Light Industrial east of the intersection of South Faudree Road and Interstate 20.
- Approved for the second and final time an ordinance renewing the night curfew for people younger than 17.