WEST ALEXANDRIA — The Village of West Alexandria’s Utility Billing Clerk — Christine Bitner — is hoping to gain the council’s support in receiving her wastewater certification.
During a council meeting on Monday, Feb. 19, Bitner shared with council her plan to get her certification and apply it towards the village’s future water plant.
She explained, she has been looking for ways to gain extra experience and move forward within her position, but hasn’t found any promising opportunities. However, with the village looking to build a new wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) in the future and the shortage of Class III Sewer Workers in the field, she decided gaining her wastewater certification would be a good way to move forward.
She has been working with Robert Smith, operator of record at the sewer plant, in training for the certification test, but she needs on the job experience to succeed. That is where her plea to council came into play.
“He has been working with me on my own time, as far as preparing to take the license test for a Class I Sewer License. The hurdle is, in order to be licensed you have to have 2,050 hours and clerical hours do not count,” Bitner said.
“I would like permission to come in early in the mornings and learn how to do the water testing, that will go towards those hours that I need. I would like to work additional hours in the evening, hands on, because I feel like it will better prepare me for the test. The other caveat to that is, with him being at the sewer plant, if he needs a break for any reason, if I get this license, I would be able to be there in his stead for up to 30 days.”
She added, when she is doing hands-on manual labor she would like to get paid for those hours. She will study and train on her own time, but when she is working in the field, she requested to be paid.
She would be willing to work as many hours as council would approve, originally stated she would prefer to work 10-15 hours a week. With those hours, it would take her two and a half years to get her license.
Mayor Carol Lunsford said, “We don’t typically pay people in training.”
“I mean, when the guys were hired in and they learned how to do tests, I doubt they did that for free,” Bitner said.
“You basically want a paid internship,” Councilwoman Holly Robbins said.
Bitner responded, “I want paid for the time I’m physically doing something.”
“That is an internship,” Robbins said.
Lunsford added, she wished Smith would have called her and discussed if he wasn’t able to complete the work on his own.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of him being unwilling to do the work, I think it is his willingness to train, and that was stipulated in his negotiations,” Bitner said.
“I just didn’t think we would be paying for the training,” Lunsford said.
“Well, you’re not paying for the training now. What I’m doing now is book work, and if we’re doing that then I won’t be paid. What I’m asking for, is to physically go out into the field and do testing and maintenance. Anything that will help me learn and train,” Bitner said.
“For clarification, you are asking to add an hour to your work day in the morning and to get paid for that hour, plus to get paid for any additional time you are working, not studying,” Councilman Shannon Smith said.
Bitner said, “Yes. It is not because people can’t do their job, it is because I have the willingness to learn and I feel that it would benefit the village. I would be a backup to do testing and if I get my license, I can fill in as the Operator of Record for a period of time.”
“If we agree to do this, what guarantee do we have that you will stay here after you get your license?” Councilman Doug Crouse asked.
Bitner said, “I think that depends on council.”
Crouse suggested, if Bitner does not stay for a period time after receiving her license, she pay them back for the expense.
“Any company will train their employee and pay them. I would consider this a very cheap opportunity for the village,” Councilman Jeff Hickey said.
Bitner added, she hopes to go as far as possible in the certification — even, potentially, earning a third level certification.
After a discussion regarding hours, council motioned to approve Bitner to start a training period for six months with Robert Smith and the service department, at her current rate of pay, to allow her a total of 40 hours per week. Council voted unanimously to approve the motion.
Bitner will be working an hour in the morning and evening, as schedules allow.
“I’m just trying to show the village that I am a person who is willing to look at a need, go to whatever lengths it takes to fulfill that need, so that in a few years I might be the person to fill that position. I live here, my family lives here, and my children go to school here,” she said.
Council called a special meeting to discuss Bitner’s training on Wednesday, March 21. The meeting was canceled due to weather. At press time, the meeting has not yet been rescheduled.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH