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Staffing Turnover a Challenge for City’s Human Resources Department 

Human Resources Director Stacy Howes (in gray cardigan) addresses the City Council at a recent budget workshop.  Photo: WSSR-TV

By Zendelle Bouchard 

The city of Sanford has several staffing vacancies, but is doing well compared with other area municipalities, according to the city’s Human Resources Director Stacy Howes. However, she said the pace of turnover in many departments is a big challenge for her staff. 

At the City Council’s budget workshop on Feb. 13, 2024, Howes told the Council the city currently has 199 full-time and four part-time employees, with twelve positions currently vacant. This does not include seasonal, on-call and temporary employees. Staff in the Human Resources and Finance Departments are being cross-trained for greater flexibility and efficiency. 

The vacant positions include a code enforcement officer, one firefighter, two dispatchers and two non-certified police officers. There are also six positions vacant in the Public Works Department, including an engineer, mechanic, and four equipment operators (EOs). Howes said a major challenge with filling the EO positions is the need for a commercial driver’s license, which requires lengthy and expensive training. Federal law mandates drug testing for a commercial driver’s license, and prohibits cannabis use, even though it is legal in Maine and many other states, creating another barrier for some who might be interested in the job. City Manager Steve Buck noted that each vacant public works position represents a snowplow route. He said he didn’t see any opportunity for eliminating a position to save money in the budget, as they are all needed to serve the community. 

Howes said Sanford has far fewer vacancies than other area towns, but that frequent turnover is a major challenge. She said in the past it was common for people to remain in a job for many years, but that has changed. People now hop from one job to another much more quickly than they used to, looking for better benefits or more convenient hours. For example, in 2013, HR processed 13 new hires, and in 2023, there were 38. This doesn’t include the seasonal and temporary positions, which may be as many as 75 per year. Refilling positions each time takes a lot of manhours and paperwork. 

A couple of departments are looking at hiring interns as a way to get additional help without the fully burdened cost of a new employee. The Planning Department and Land Bank have had summer interns in the past. Last year’s intern was 50% funded by the governor’s office through an energy grant, so the intern helped with a dam project as well as with the streetlight conversion. Planning Director Jamie Cole said he hopes to have another intern this year. Although there is enough clerical work for a year-round employee, Cole said he is being realistic by looking toward an intern. The cost would be 50% funded again if it is approved. Planner Erin Moriarty said that unfortunately there are no local schools that offer a planning major, so the City could offer a stipend but no course credit. 

The Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council is also budgeting for an intern, as they have a special project in the works which requires data collection, an ideal task for an intern. Growth Council Executive Director Keith McBride said he is applying for funding from the University of Southern Maine to cover the cost. 

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