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City engineer seeks pool solution to staff shortage

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Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

A shortage of engineers in the city has that department director seeking a solution that towns with smaller populations than Roswell often use.

City Engineer Louis Najar introduced at Monday’s Infrastructure Committee meeting a request for proposal to create a pool of engineering firms to provide services for Roswell. The RFP will likely come before the city council at its April 9 meeting.

The pool would last four years, and then another RFP would be issued.

Najar is the only licensed civil engineer employed by the city, and he said the city has had trouble filling vacancies in the engineering department.

“We’ve had three engineers on staff, now there’s only me,” he said.

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One engineer left for a federal job that provides better benefits and another is retiring, Najar said.

Ideally, he’d like to have a senior engineer and a civil engineer on staff. The senior engineer would be next in line for the city engineer job, he said, and the civil engineer could be less experienced. Both would have to be licensed in New Mexico with experience in utilities, roadwork and surveying.

“We have zero qualified applicants, and it’s already been a few months,” he said.

“As a supervisor, you’re always training your replacement. When there is no replacement, you have to look at another picture,” he said.

The RFP calls for the city to hire more than one engineer or firm to provide services including planning, survey, design, construction management, and construction testing and inspection duties.

Smaller communities that can’t afford an engineering department or an engineer often have similar arrangements, he said.

Najar, who has worked for the city since 1995, said he has no plans to leave his job, but is thinking of what’s best for Roswell now and in the future.

“If something were to happen to me, then the city would already have a pool of engineers that they could solicit and who would help with the day-to-day activities,” he said.

In addition, if the city should continue to grow, so will its engineering needs.

With the 2020 Census underway, civic leaders are encouraging people in Roswell to complete their forms in a push to reach 50,000 for the city’s population count.

“People don’t realize that if we go to 50,000, the environmental requirements will go up. So that’s going require more engineering on the wastewater side, more engineering on the drainage side, more engineering on everything we do,” he said.

Najar attributed the difficulty in hiring engineers in part to salary.

A position for an engineering technician has been open since October, while the position for Najar’s second-in-command was listed just last week.

The positions in the city’s engineering department start at $91,000 and $72,000 a year. Those amounts may sound high, but Najar said that’s deceptive.

“For engineers, it’s not really competitive. People think it’s a lot of money, but in the real world, it’s not competitive with other agencies, it’s not competitive with the private world. And if you don’t believe me, there’s no applicants,” he said.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median, or midpoint, annual wage for civil engineers nationally was $86,640 in May 2018, with a range from $142,560 to $54,780. The average annual wage was $93,720.

New Mexico is lower than national statistics, according to the BLS: $85,900 for the median wage and $88,840 for the average.

An analysis by USA Wage of BLS data ranked New Mexico 17th in pay among the 50 states for civil engineer pay.

Najar said it can also be difficult to attract qualified engineers to Roswell.

“Roswell is a difficult place to recruit,” he said. “It’s adequate work (for spouses), and then the lifestyle.”

“As an engineer or a doctor, you welcome the challenge to come and work in Roswell, but your significant other, your family might say Roswell’s too small. That’s what I’ve seen and experienced in my career when trying to recruit people.”

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