With the huge task of revamping its sewer system approaching, the city of Akron took a step Thursday toward ensuring it can provide a pool of local truck drivers for the project.
City officials said they will create positions in the Public Service Department for a new classification of worker — Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Equipment Operators — and will train up to 48 qualified city residents for their commercial driver license at no cost to them.
New hires will assist during the construction of a $200 million tunnel needed as part of the overhaul of the city’s combined sewer overflow system.
“If there is a bright spot in this whole unfunded, yet mandated, combined sewer overflow project, because we will receive no federal or state dollars, it is that our residents can be trained and employed to do some of the work necessary to complete the project because it’s our money,” Mayor Don Plusquellic said Thursday in announcing the initiative. “The program is a continuation of a commitment that I’ve made to try to get our residents educated and trained for the jobs of the future.”
He said that because Akron residents will be required to pay for the sewer work, they should be able to perform some of that work.
Plusquellic said contractors have told him the tunnel project will demand thousands of hours of trucking to remove material at some stages and bring in fill material at other times. There currently aren’t enough qualified people to meet the requirement for their bid packages.
To make sure more Akron residents get job opportunities on local projects, the city also wants to increase the bonus points for residency by 20 percent along with 20 percent bonus points for those who served in the military.
The mayor said he wants to expand the CDL program he took to council members eight weeks ago to ask them to put some financial support behind an idea to train drivers. The city will contribute $25,000 as seed money for the program.
Plusquellic said there is a high demand for CDLs and called it imperative that the city get more trained people with the licenses to help with Akron’s snow removal needs and other public service demands.
The new positions will be permanent within the Public Service Department once the sewer project starts and will continue as long as funding is available, the city said.
“This program will help our residents get the CDL training, and they, in turn, have to work for us for 90 days out of the next year following the training. If a resident completes the training, but decides not to work for the city, they will have to pay back the training costs,” Plusquellic said. “If they do the training and there is no permanent work for them with the city, their license goes with them and they will have a skill that will be marketable out there.”
George Johnson, union president of AFSCME Local 1360, said the jobs are in line with what the union has been advocating all along: that the sewer project positions be targeted to Akron residents. He said the additional jobs mean his union membership could reach 500.
“Not only is it helping the tax base and the economy, but there is going to be significant costs to the residents to make sure that this project gets done, [so] the residents should see some of the benefits,” Johnson said. “This should come full circle.”
The Akron Civil Service Commission voted Thursday to certify the new job description for the sewer project.
Sewage going into rivers
Akron has nearly three dozen remaining sewer outlets that annually discharge up to 2 billion gallons of raw sewage and stormwater into the Cuyahoga and Little Cuyahoga rivers and the Ohio & Erie Canal after heavy rainfall.
A proposed consent decree involving the city, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio EPA to correct the combined sewer overflows by 2027 is pending approval with U.S. District Judge John Adams.
The price tag for the sewer project is estimated at $870 million. Subsequent increases in residential sewer bills will affect about 300,000 customers in Akron and 13 suburbs.
The city has hired the firm DLZ to lead the design and engineering work on the massive tunnel portion of the project. Construction is about a year away and scheduled for completion by the end of 2018.
Applications for the free CDL training classes will be available starting early next week at Akron Public Schools, the Akron Urban League and online at www.akronohio.gov. The forms will be collected for two weeks.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.