The city of Statesboro has merged its Water-Wastewater and Natural Gas departments into a single Public Utilities Department under one director.
Natural Gas Director Steve Hotchkiss has been serving also as interim director over the water-sewer and wastewater treatment divisions since Van Collins retired as Water-Wastewater Department director in July. Collins was a city employee 37 years, all with the same department.
City Council unanimously approved a proposal Tuesday to combine the two director roles, making Hotchkiss director of public utilities. Hotchkiss has worked with the city’s natural gas service for 29 years, in the position of departmental director for most of that time.
“I appreciate the city giving me the opportunity all these years, letting me have a good place to work and good people to work with,” Hotchkiss said Thursday. “I appreciate their having faith in me, and will do the best I can for them.”
The reorganization plan, presented by Deputy City Manager Robert Cheshire, also reclassifies the job of assistant water-wastewater director to compliance project manager and retitles the assistant director of natural gas as natural gas superintendent. A new job of operations supervisor within the wastewater treatment division was also created when the council accepted the revised organizational chart.
Now supervising more employees, Hotchkiss will get a raise through a change in pay grade, he confirmed. But because one director position was eliminated, the city should be able to add the operations supervisor and make the other changes without any increase in overall cost, Cheshire said.
“Really there’s no net increase of positions,” he said. “It will stay the same, and salary-wise and budget-wise I expect it’s going to be close to neutral as well.”
Cheshire’s written proposal stated that the changes could “possibly even result in some savings” but that salaries were still to be determined.
The newly combined department has 59 employees. As natural gas director, Hotchkiss headed a department with nine employees, he said. But the natural gas system they maintain extends from the other side of the Ogeechee River in Screven County through Statesboro to Metter’s Interstate 16 interchange in Candler County.
No longer called an assistant director, Natural Gas Superintendent Joe Hollingsworth now has a title corresponding to the superintendents of the water-sewer and wastewater treatment divisions, with no change in pay grade, Cheshire explained.
Meanwhile, both the compliance project manager and wastewater plant operations manager jobs are open awaiting future hiring or promotion decisions.
The compliance and project manager will assist all three divisions of the department, Cheshire said. “Compliance” refers to all of the regulations that must be complied with in maintaining utility pipelines and disposing of wastewater.
“They would assist with compliance with all of those divisions, as well as project management, any kind of project that could be,” Cheshire said.
The city staff leaders thought an operations supervisor at the wastewater treatment plant was needed because there are nine operators, working shifts, with four chief operators and no direct supervisor over all the shifts, he said. Cheshire described the new organizational chart as an effort to improve communication and efficiency.
City Manager Randy Wetmore thanked Hotchkiss for his interim double duty and being willing to take on new responsibility.
“Robert and Steve did a lot of work and a lot of thought to put this together, and we think it will be much more efficient for the coming year,” Wetmore said.
Councilman Sam Lee Jones told Cheshire and Wetmore he realized they didn’t know yet who would get the new operations supervisor slot.
“But it would be great if we could have an in-house promotion,” Jones said. “I know there’s a lot of good people that work in the department.”
Cheshire replied that he also recognizes this and likes the fact that the reorganization could give some long-time employees an opportunity to move up.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.