Public works department holds steadfast

The Oregon public works department is prioritizing certain projects during the pandemic, while putting others on hold to curb the spread of COVID-19 and keep staff healthy.

Despite some furloughs and reduced services, things are mostly business as usual for the Oregon public works department amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jeff Rau, public works director, told the Village Board in an April 15 memo, the department is continuing to provide critical services and operations during the state’s “Safer at Home” order, which has been extended to Tuesday, May 26. He said to date, six full-time public works staff are furloughed, with three workers using accrued leave to cover costs.

The department’s summer employment program, he said, is on hold for now and will not hire workers for that season until public works is back at full staff capacity.

“We’ve received applications and will retain them on file until we know a better schedule when things will begin to reopen,” he wrote. “With reduced staffing and no early season help, mowing and general maintenance of the village will be reduced.”

To curb the spread of the illness on the job, the department does daily equipment disinfection and has employees travel in separate vehicles and practice social distancing while on site. It has also closed its break room.

“We hope that this plan is merely temporary, and we believe the actions we have taken will hopefully protect our employees,” Rau wrote in the memo. “As we enter summer, I anticipate some pushback from residents who are expecting 100% of services through summer.”

The biggest item he expects to hear about is mowing, he wrote. Many residents complained three years ago when Rau had the department reduce mowing to balance his employees’ workloads.

Rau’s memo said public works staff are actively maintaining the village’s water and sewer utility, performing daily inspections of well sites and water quality testing required by the state, addressing public requests and monitoring equipment. There are two full-time workers for the water utility and two full-timers for the sewer utilities to address those needs, Rau said.

“Staff are also available in the event of a water emergency … such as a water main break,” he wrote.

In the event of a sewer backup of sanitary line blockage, Rau said the department’s sewer jetting truck is available.

There are three full-time public works workers to offer limited services to village residents.

Such include addressing yard waste pick up — leaves, thatched grass, etc. — monthly brush and branch chipping, park cleanup, trash removal, sign installations, grave digging and other ongoing tasks.

He said he and assistant director Gary Disch also continue to work full time to address management issues and to process payment requests for necessary material and supplies.

Email Emilie Heidemann at emilie.heidemann@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @HeidemannEmilie.