KILLEEN, Texas — The City of Killeen was short 22 solid waste employees back in May, which was roughly half of the solid waste staff that works in the field. The remaining employees were working overtime to cover the whole city, routes were falling behind, and Killeen was warning customers that their trash may be picked up a day late.
The City of Killeen also previously increased pay for solid waste workers to become more competitive and suspended its bulk pickup service at the end of May to consolidate the remaining employees.
Now, four weeks later, Public Works Executive Director Jeffery Reynolds told 6 News the department had hired three drivers and had another 12 in the onboarding process. Reynolds said the department would have 15 of the 16 drivers they needed if everyone checks out.
"If everyone we've got in the queue getting background checks right now makes it, nobody fails a background check and everybody shows up, we will need one additional driver," Reynolds said.
He said the the Solid Waste Department interviewed another seven people at the city job fair on Wednesday.
Reynolds told 6 News the department had been able to get its route done on time last week, but only after having supervisors get out and drive trucks themselves.
"Initially we had a lot of holes. What we've done is we took a lot of the supervisory staff for solid waste and put them in trucks as well. So they are filling those vacancies," Reynolds said.
Reynolds said one of the main issues in hiring people is the shortage of drivers with a Class-B commercial driver's license. Reynolds said there was a change in state law back in February that required drivers to go though a class costing around $5000 to obtain such a license. Previously, cities like Killeen were able to train drivers on the job and have them later take a driving test. The change made CDL holders more valuable across the board.
"That schooling made that license a lot more marketable. So we are not just competing with municipalities for solid waste drivers. We are competing with any entity that needs a CDL driver," Reynolds said.
Once the City of Killeen hires a driver, Reynolds told 6 News it still takes three to six weeks to train a driver on a city truck.
While the City of Killeen is still planning to resume bulk item pickup in October of this year when all the new drivers should be ready, the service will not work the same way.
In October, residents will need to call the city prior to their normal trash day and specifically tell the city they have bulk items that need to be picked up. Reynolds said there would be some additional fee per bulk collection at that time.
The result, Reynolds said, would hopefully be that residents will not have trash items set out all the time and the City of Killeen would become cleaner after the change.
"It's going to have the streets to where, when you set those containers out, you are mainly going to see containers out on trash days. Not containers and piles and piles of trash. That's what we want to clean up. Other cities have done it and it just looks cleaner. We want to live in a clean city," Reynolds said.