Contract workers OK’d by city

The city of Big Spring may seek outside help to repair water line breaks this winter.The city council gave its blessing last week to a “emergency back-up plan” which could result in private contractors repairing line breaks in the coming months.The reason for the plan is simple — severe staff shortages.Interim Public Works Director Johnny Womack told the council that only five of the 16 budgeted water maintenance positions for the city are currently staffed.The reason behind that shortage? Economics.“We just can't compete with the oilfield when it comes to salaries,” City Manager Todd Darden said.Compounding the problem is that the few street crew personnel on hand are in danger of being overworked just dealing with water line issues in the warmer months. If a bad cold snap hits, causing even more breaks, the situation may become untenable, Womack said.That situation was illustrated Thursday, when two 20-inch water line breaks taxed the city's workforce. Womack said some of his crew worked a 24-hour shift that day, while employees from other departments pitched in to help.With situations like Thursday's in mind, officials devised the plan to have private contractors on hand just in case city crews get overwhelmed by water line breaks.“Our guys aren't going to sit around and be watching TV while contractors are out fixing line breaks,” Womack said. “(Contractors) will only be used in case of an emergency situation.”