Ask any employee who works at a private-sector business about staffing levels and their response is almost always going to be, "We are understaffed."
So, it would not be a surprise if you asked a local government or school district worker about staffing levels in their departments. You would receive that same answer from these employees: "We are understaffed."
But now there is a new buzzword for being understaffed in government and schools. It is "essential."
During budget meetings in Fredonia, which raised taxes while cutting the scraps earlier this month, Jack Boland, Department of Public Works supervisor, brought along an employee to talk about the operations. Since Boland in January did not know how many employees were in his department, it was "essential" he have some back-up with his department's future finances on the line.
In this case, he brought with him a motor equipment operator. Both Boland and the operator discussed how there were no projects done in the village by the department. "That was my plan for this year, just maintenance," the supervisor said.
Both also mentioned how the department can be down workers due to vacation or sick time taken by employees at any given time.
Therein lies the problem. The private sector does not fill positions because there will be sick or vacation time taken by staff. They fill positions based on demand for product.
In Fredonia - and all of Chautauqua County - demand for our product has gone down. Our population has decreased. Our number of businesses have as well.
When demand decreases, you reduce the number of employees you maintain on your payroll to keep positive cash flow. Too many of our municipalities - and schools - can't seem to grasp this concept, especially at budget time.
Most disappointing in the process is the management and oversight by the boards. Workers and paid supervisors should not be driving the hiring process because they gripe. They are employees who will always want what is best for them.
Boards are expected to be the financial gatekeepers for their communities, not hiring agencies.
Besides, listening to employees and supervisors complain about being understaffed is the equivalent of a couple walking into the jewelry store before the engagement if official. It ultimately becomes a pricey experience.