Hiring void delays Naperville projects, responses

Just when some city residents are experiencing an uptick in the need to call city hall for help with excess rain water, Naperville is finding itself less able to respond promptly to those requests, because its staff is shorthanded.

The city’s Transportation, Engineering and Development business group is postponing a few projects that were planned for this year because suitable candidates aren’t readily available to fill several key job vacancies in the department.

According to Bill Novack, TED director, the situation’s timing is unfortunate. Resident calls for help with storm water and traffic concerns will take “much longer” to address while head counts remain down.

“With the weather we have had this year, the volume of stormwater request is up significantly. The Stormwater Team currently has 76 active requests, and has received 18 in the last week,” Novack wrote in a memo to City Manager Doug Krieger Friday. “When the requests are received we will contact residents and confirm that we have their request, but note that it will be several weeks before we can initiate activity to look into their request.”

Novack said the staffing shortfall isn’t entirely unprecedented.

“But it’s not something that we’ve experienced in the past four or five years,” he said.

A cluster of recent staff departures left seven open positions in the department, two of which have been filled, he said. The other five jobs — a transportation team leader, two project engineers, a transportation project manager and a Community Development Block Grant coordinator — have drawn some interest, but the candidates aren’t of the caliber Novack would like to see.

“So we’re just pretty thin on the transportation and engineering end right now,” he said. “You anticipate you’re going to have a vacancy or two, but to have five at a time this early in the fiscal year is unusual.”

In an effort to manage the staffing shortage, the department is making more extensive use of engineering and CDBG consultants and will be easing restrictions on overtime for current staff while the search for new hires continues.

Still, the lighter head count will mean suspending or delaying some programs that had been on the schedule this year. Work on the Comprehensive Transportation Plan update, downtown parking improvement studies and next year’s New Sidewalk Program will be delayed, as will several minor capital improvement projects.

While it’s not good news for TED, Novack sees the scenario of unfilled job openings as a good sign that the unemployment picture is continuing to look brighter.

“Overall, the days of those phenomenal candidates being readily available are done,” he said.

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