Hank Stolz:
Here to fill us in and bring us behind the scenes is Worcester City Manager, Ed Augustus. Good morning.

Ed Augustus:
Good morning, Hank.

Hank Stolz:
Well, listen, I’m reading in the papers, and even as we’re having our discussions and people calling in this morning. People talking about the help wanted sign that’s just out everywhere, private and public sector, but including for snow plow drivers. And we’re starting to get to that time of year when you’re going to have to activate them. Do we have enough snow plow drivers? What are we paying snow plow drivers?

Ed Augustus:
I think we’ll be fine. We’ve got about a normal signup rate so far this year. And typically what we see is people dribble in as the weather gets colder. And then when we get in the forecast, the first plow bowl event, that’s when we get a rush of people who come in and sign up to do plowing for us. A couple years ago, we instituted a new strategy where we give a bonus if you show up every time we call. Because what we found is, sometimes if it’s Super Bowl night, if it’s Christmas Eve, if it’s New Year’s Eve, sometimes we wouldn’t get 100 percent attendance. And if you’ve got a real snow or ice event going on in the city, you want a full complement of folks out there. And so we’ve tried to incent people to show up every time, even if it might be inconvenient the night that we’re calling you or the morning we’re calling you whatever. And that’s helped, that’s helped us put more pieces of equipment on the street consistently from the beginning of the season to the end of the season.

Ed Augustus:
But we’re paying anywhere from $75 an hour to $180 an hour, $180 is for the big loaders, the biggest pieces of equipment. And again, we have to compete. It’s not like we’re the only game in town. Every city in town, in this area, and the state and private entities that have plowable driveways and parking lots and facilities are all competing for these folks. And Worcester’s not the easiest route to plow when you’ve got 500 plus miles of roadway, some of which are very narrow with cars on one side of the street and really challenging terrain on seven hills. It’s not as easy as plowing the Mass Pike, which is just straight ahead.

Hank Stolz:
All right. So, you said, up to what, $180? We’re seeing where some communities are having to offer over $300 an hour.

Ed Augustus:
This is really an issue that we’re seeing across jobs. We met a couple weeks ago, the Lieutenant Governor’s Secretary Kennealy were here. We met with downtown businesses, little restaurants, little bodegas, little shops, everybody’s got the same issue. They can’t find help. So, everybody is having to try to offer more signing bonuses, all sorts of different strategies. That’s part of what we’re seeing nationally in creating the inflation. People have to pay more in order to get people to come to work for them and that’s driving up prices, because they pass those on to the consumer. So, we’re seeing that across the board, we’ve seen it with the school bus drivers, we’ve seen it with people who are helping on the supply chain, whether they’re loading trucks, whether they’re unloading at the ports around the country, whether they’re train operators, you name it. Anybody who’s involved in delivering goods from point A to point B is just really stressed in terms of having enough help to up with the demand.

Hank Stolz:
Mr. Manager, as far as city employees being vaccinated, where are we right now? What percentage do we have of city employees who are complying with the mandate that we have in the city?

Ed Augustus:
So, right now we have 96% of the city workforce that is compliant. That means 82% have received and proven that they’ve received the vaccination, two doses. And 14% are testing on a weekly basis. That leaves 4%, what we call non-compliant. Most of that 4% are folks who are injured on duty, they’re on maternity leave, they’re in some other unique status that they’re not showing up to work because of their own family and medical leave, whatever it may be. There’s a handful of folks that have been sent home awaiting either a test result or proof of vaccination, but not even two hands could you count that number on.

Hank Stolz:
All right. You have named the Ballpark Commission, just remind us of what exactly that is and what they’re going to do. And then how did you come up with the people who are going to serve?

Ed Augustus:
So, we really tried to model it on the DCU or the Civic Center Commission, where there are individuals who were appointed to that commission who help oversee the DCU, a city owned facility. It has two parts, the arena and the convention center. And the city has, as part of the contract with the operator, that a certain number of city days can be given out. The commission decides what those days are. So, community groups, Worcester public schools. Whoever can go to them asks for one of the community days and they can decide who to give those days to. They also oversee a lot of the operations of the facility in terms of major repairs and improvements. And so we wanted to do something with the Ballpark, which is a publicly owned facility, to have the public and the community help manage this, similar to every other major facilities.

Ed Augustus:
So, I appointed seven members of the Ballpark Commission, the former City Solicitor, David Moore’s going to be the chair. It’s reflective of all the districts in the city of Worcester. It’s reflective of the diversity of the community. We had a lot of people, I don’t think we’ve seen a board or commission that had that many applicants for it, which shows just the enthusiasm for the Ballpark and the team and its role in Worcester. So, it’s before the council tonight, the council doesn’t have to confirm it. It’s just informational. They’ll be sworn in shortly. And then they’ll decide the days that the city can use the facility. There’s a certain number of days for the community. And there’s a certain number of days that we can do for-profit events, events that the city can organize and take the proceeds of those events to offset the city’s costs. And so, I’m going to really be looking to the commission to help come up with some ideas and some proposals for us to make some money off the Ballpark ourselves, not only the team, but the city of Worcester.

Hank Stolz:
Well, everybody keeps talking about when’s that first concert going to happen?

Ed Augustus:
Well, that’s something certainly… It’s a possibility that we’ll do something like that, but I know the team is anxious to come up with that. I had a conversation with Larry Lucchino yesterday, and I know they’re planning and got some good ideas coming forward. I think everybody wanted to get the first season under their belt, work the kinks and figure out the operational flow of the Ballpark for its principal use, the baseball season. I think we saw the success of the football game. I think that’s going to stay, maybe even expand. And we always anticipated that this would be a concert venue. And so I’m hoping that in ’22, we’re going to start seeing concerts happening at Polar Park, as well as other events. I think there’s some really cool ideas in the mix that are going to further use that facility, not just for baseball, but for other things that are going to bring people into the city of Worcester.

Hank Stolz:
Mr. Manager, a lot that is happening. I’m going to put these together, but you can break them apart. We had the Doherty High School groundbreaking, the VA clinic, $90 million new four story building that’s attached to the UMass Chan School. We are going to have, for the holiday season and right on into February, all up and down main street, we’re going to have lights in front of the Hanover Theater. That is going to be looking different very soon for folks and a great place for people to go and visit. So, all of these things now are happening. The growth just continues.

Ed Augustus:
Yeah. And there’s so much more. I mean, we’re going to open today the Binienda Beach at Coes Pond. We’re going to open the new canoe and kayak launch that are on the beach side. The boardwalk on the other side of the beach, where the playground is and where the Hillside Beach used to be. Boardwalk is under construction there, which will tie back over to Columbus Park. So, really allows, just like we’re doing at Institute park, we did at Curtis Pond over at Hadwen Park. We’re trying to use the bodies of water as walkways. So people can get passive exercise, enjoy the wildlife, enjoy nature, enjoy our great public parks. Yeah. We broke ground for Doherty High School, which is going to be an amazing 460 000 square foot state of the art educational facility coming right on the heels of South High School.

Ed Augustus:
We are cooking on all cylinders. I was up at the Senior Center yesterday. They’re installing solar arrays in the parking lot, which is going to cut by 25% the energy use that the Senior Center. We’re going to generate 25% of our own energy. That’s good for the environment. It’s good for the taxpayer. And it’s actually good for the seniors because they’re going to be able to park under those solar arrays, their car won’t be so hot in the summer and it won’t have the snow on it in the winter. So those are going up. That’s part of our green Worcester plan that we’re implementing across the city.

Ed Augustus:
And then Main Street, starting this week, you’ll start to see the public art installed up and down Main Street. And if you look in front of Carroll, in front of the Hanover Theater, Carroll Plaza is now under construction. That’ll be a performance stage in front of the theater, outside seating area and a replica of a [inaudible 00:10:37], which was invented here in Worcester, which are going to be water jets with lights. That will become a big attraction and a nice way to enjoy that outside space before or after theater performance or just in the middle of the day when the weather is good. So, a lot, lot going on across the city.

Hank Stolz:
That is a fantastic. Just quickly, one last thing before we let you leave. It’s just because I think that it does point to the reason that we have to have redistricting, is because of the population growth, which is a great thing. What do people need to know about redistricting in the city of Worcester?

Ed Augustus:
It’s something that we’re required to do by law. The census happens every 10 years, and then after the census is certified and we have the numbers, we are obliged under the one person, one vote principle to make sure that each district is evenly divided for city councils. The legislature has to do that for the house and senate seats. The Congress has to do that, or the states do it for the congressional seats. And we want to make sure that as the population grows, it hasn’t grown exactly evenly in every pocket of the city. So the districts can’t remain static because the population has grown in different pockets of the city.

Ed Augustus:
So, city clerk has been working on making sure that we have districts that will be consistent population wise, and that’s going to require some tweaking of the lines, which is something we do every 10 years. The good news is, our population is going up. For years and years and years, the population was going down. And it’s, I think a testimony to things that are going on in the city, that more and more people want to make Worcester proud of their future.

Hank Stolz:
Absolutely. Fantastic. Well, a lot of good news this morning. Greatly appreciate you coming by and it with us.

Ed Augustus:
Thank you, Hank.