TRURO — The town’s popular and affordable summer day camp will be able only to take children of Truro residents this year, the result of a failure to attract enough camp counselors.
Usually, the town finds 15 full-time counselors to work with 100 or more campers from Truro and surrounding towns. This year, there are only three returning staff, and there were just two applications from potential new employees, said Damion Clements, the beach and recreation director.
The problem, Clements said, is the continuing shortage of available and affordable housing. And it’s not just an impediment for hourly workers like counselors, who are paid $15 to $18 an hour. Truro’s municipal staff is down by 11 employees. That includes three police officers and a finance director-treasurer-tax collector position, currently advertised at a salary of up to $125,000 a year, said Town Manager Darrin Tangeman. It’s been vacant for over a year.
Some people have accepted jobs, then either failed to secure housing or found that their rent was too expensive to make the job worthwhile, Clements said.
Clements first posted the summer jobs in March, with a March 31 application deadline, he said. When few applications appeared, the jobs were advertised and reposted twice more. Friday, May 28 was the third deadline for applicants, he said. Advertising in the Cape Cod Times, as well as on Facebook and Twitter, and at job fairs through Nauset Regional High School and Barnstable County didn’t really help. As an incentive, the town is now offering a $500 “vaccination bonus” to full-time staff who are vaccinated, Tangeman said.
“This has been enlightening and alarming,” said select board chair Robert Weinstein at a recent meeting. “The housing issue has gone from a crisis to a disaster.”
Losing much of the Truro summer camp program imposes a double whammy. Less child care means fewer working parents.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” Weinstein said. “The summer program gave certainty to parents that their children had something to do in the summer, so the parents could join the work force. I see this ballooning. That should get everyone’s attention.”
Meanwhile, the town is trying to hire three police officers. One officer recently retired and two have taken higher-paying jobs in other police depts., said Chief Jamie Calise. The town is also trying to recruit one full-time firefighter, a dog officer, a public safety dispatcher, an assistant recreation director, several dept. of public works employees, and a new director of finance.
“Many of these are public safety positions and we need to fill them,” Tangeman said.
The director of finance job opened up when Cynthia Slade, who was, for decades, the town clerk, treasurer, and tax collector, retired two years ago. The select board purposely left that job open while they conducted two national searches to find a town manager. Tangeman became town manager in November 2020, and he’s been looking to fill the finance director and town clerk positions ever since.
Slade’s retirement set in motion a reorganization of the town’s financial team. Her combined position as clerk, treasurer, and collector is archaic by today’s standards. Tangeman opted for a more modern take on municipal finance by hiring a full-time town clerk to run elections and town meetings and sell licenses. Kaci Fullerton began her new job this week. Formerly in the U.S. Army, she has two master’s degrees, Tangeman said. Her starting salary is $77,857.
By combining the duties of treasurer and tax collector with finance director, Tangeman aims to have one person supervising all the town’s finances for “quality control.”
Though Tangemen did not specifically name Wellfleet, which has lost three town accountants in two years and is in a financial crisis, it’s clear he’s trying to avoid a similar situation. Though the town still has long-serving Town Accountant Trudi Brazil, Truro’s finance department has been operating for a year with a part-time treasurer, Mary McIsaac.
A former Barnstable County finance director, McIsaac recently took on new duties by working in Wellfleet part-time to help that town reconcile years of poor accounting work.
Staff shortages are an issue all over the Cape, Tangeman said. That’s why he is raising salaries whenever possible.
When it comes to setting salaries, he said, “the size of the town and size of responsibilities all play a role.” But, he added, “so does cost of living, and that’s the challenge — attracting someone who will come out here with Massachusetts municipal experience.”