St. Mary’s commissioners approved a plan to reorganize the county’s bus system’s staff on Tuesday, but some expressed reservations as the overhaul, which will cost a bit more money, was introduced just after the county’s budget was approved.
The reorganization promotes some hourly-waged bus drivers to full-time salaried employees, only raising costs by $3,800, which should be “easily absorbed” in the department of public works and transportation’s budget, Director John Deatrick told commissioners.
Currently, the county’s hourly bus drivers usually work 40 hours a week, and the system is plagued with call-outs and last-minute scheduling issues, Deatrick said, as well as issues hiring from a younger labor pool which wants benefits.
Full-time employees tend to have less scheduling conflicts, as they have a set schedule.
“It sounds kind of basic, but it’s true,” Deatrick said.
Current hourly employees also work overtime often, which will be alleviated by full-time positions.
On Monday, “There were ... four drivers that had to do double shifts, because of the problem we’re in, and that’s just completely unacceptable,” Deatrick said.
The change will also update the chain of command in the county’s bus system.
In the current structure of the STS office, “Everyone’s equal and nobody knows who the boss is,” Deatrick said.
Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) disagreed with the timing of the changes to full-time county positions, which came just after the county’s fiscal 2023 budget was approved.
“If I’m reading this correctly, you’re adding 23 new full-time employees to the county payroll,” Morgan said.
“We just finished a budget two weeks ago, and we’re coming back here with a whole big change about how the STS bus drivers are gonna be treated,” he added. “I think it’s sort of bad timing, after all the fights we had at the table here.”
Bus drivers are paid with mostly grant money, which is why the project moved separately, Catherine Pratson, St. Mary’s human resources director, said. Most of the hourly bus drivers already get health insurance through the county, too, due to the amount of hours they work.
Commissioner John O’Connor (R), who voted against the change along with Morgan, said the county would have to prepare in case grant money is decreased or goes away. O’Connor said the state is funding the Southern Maryland Rapid Transit project, which would connect Charles to Prince George’s County, and St. Mary’s would have to be ready in the long run if funds get diverted to that project.
“When it comes to St. Mary’s County, historically, our funding has always been reduced” following major projects elsewhere, O’Connor said.
In future meetings, the department will also be overhauling bus fares, updating bus signs on Great Mills Road to eliminate flag stops, purchasing bus shelters, purchasing bus software and updating policies for passengers with disabilities, Deatrick said.
Private pier discussed
In other business on Tuesday, commissioners unanimously approved a rule to allow properties platted before December 1994 to have a private pier alongside a community pier.
They also authorized market pay increases for the county’s chief information officer and communications director positions, as well as temporary pay increases for David Weiskopf, county attorney, and Pratson, who are currently serving in an acting capacity as the county administrator while Rebecca Bridgett is on an extended medical leave.