Lack of applicants keeps city jobs vacant

CITY HALL – Good jobs are going unfilled in city government because nobody’s available to fill them.

In hearings on the city’s proposed budget for 2019-2020 on Wednesday, the people in charge of parks and streets said grass isn’t being cut and cars aren’t being towed because there are too many unfilled jobs.  There simply aren’t enough people to do the work.

“City-wide, we’re looking at about a 16 percent vacancy rate,” said city Director of Operations Todd Waelterman.

The city’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department is holding job fairs and asking schools for help in an effort to find people to cut grass in vacant lots and parks. The jobs pay $13.31 an hour and could lead to more permanent work, said Greg Hayes, director of that division.

Hayes spoke at a hearing on the budget held by the Board of Aldermen’s Ways and Means Committee. He said that the Forestry Division needs about 80 to 85 grass cutters and the Parks Division about 70. And just finding new hires won’t necessarily solve the problem.  They have to continue replacing additional workers who quit.

“We’re always looking for seasonal folks,” Hayes said. “We just keep hiring and hiring from April to September. Anyone who wants to work for the city cutting grass in a great job, we’ll always welcome that.”

When it comes to vacant lots, officials confess they’re looking for quantity over quality. “It’s just not going to look like Central Park or Forest Park,” Hayes said.  

The budget calls for $1.2 million for seasonal paid staff and another $350,00 for vacant buildings and Gatewood Gardens Cemetery. The Land Reutilization Authority pays $525,000 to cut its vacant property, but that doesn’t cover all expenses, Hayes said.

However, that’s not enough to cover costs for the grass cutting on the LRA property, Hayes said. This brought criticism from 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad and 20th  Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer. They wanted to know the cost of mowing the LRA land so the city could be fully reimbursed.

Hayes is one of a series of departmental directors who have appeared before the Way and Means Committee to explain their budgets and issues of concern to the public. Another is Jamie Wilson, director of the Street Department.

Like Hayes, Wilson said his department can’t find all the workers it needs. He said the percent vacancy rate for city jobs cited by Waelterman is probably pretty representative of the street department as a whole.

Members of the Ways and Means Committee who quizzed Wilson frequently said the street department’s Towing Division isn’t moving fast enough to remove derelict vehicles. They also said $250,000 should be included in each budget to buy two new tow trucks to replace older one.

Wilson said the department’s tow lot facility is inadequate. “We want to bring that up to at least par.”

Alderwoman Marlene E. Davis, who represents the 19th Ward, said the steady drop in the city’s population means the city never will have enough trucks for the street department. She said the city would be better off contracting for the needed services.

“We are not who we used to be, and we need to stop pretending,” Davis said.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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