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Virginia council takes action to alleviate staffing issues at ITMEC

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VIRGINIA — Going into Tuesday’s Virginia city meetings, it was a given the new Iron Trail Motors Event Center was understaffed.

“We need to get you some help there,’’ Mayor Larry Cuffe Jr. told city employees working at the ITMEC, who were in attendance at Tuesday morning's Committee of the Whole.

The Virginia City Council stepped up to the plate Tuesday night and approved hiring up to 10 full-time equivalent recreation assistants (about a $200,000 expenditure) to help staffing issues at the ITMEC.

The council also began the process of making two part-time lead recreation attendants full-time ($50,000-$60,000 cost) and creating full-time and part-time event coordinator positions (1.5 FTEs and a cost of $102,000).

Cuffe called for Tuesday morning’s COW session after meeting with a number of individuals and groups who have expressed interest and concern about the ITMEC. The items included, but are not limited to, concessions, concession service, maintenance and cleaning, sidewalk snow removal and access to staff particularly on weekends, he said in a letter to city staff.

“I have also heard from supervisors and workers that we are “woefully understaffed,’’ his letter stated.

At the meeting, Cuffe said the ITMEC staff has been doing yeoman’s work since the facility opened in September. The main thing he wanted to find out was if there is enough revenue coming in to support adding employees.

Councilor Steven B. Johnson said the staff did everything they could to get the building open and have been working hard the last four months.

Despite that, staffing help is needed. “We need more bodies to fill the hours’’ of work.

“We as a council didn’t give you enough personnel,’’ Cuffe said. While financial losses are expected to continue for two-three more years, “I think we need more staff. There’s no question about that,’’ he added.

According to the budget figures provided at the COW meeting, the ITMEC (which opened in late September) lost about $615,000 in 2021. The facility brought in $387,000 in revenue, while having more than $1 million in expenditures.

Finance Director Sherry Erickson said since the expenses were already budgeted for the former Miners Memorial Building, the revenue ultimately helped the general fund by about $300,000. The former Miners was not a revenue source in the past, she added.

Erickson, who took a conservative approach with the ITMEC, said she now sees it is doing better than expected. She added the public relations firm is doing an awesome job marketing the facility with many, many events of all kinds on the calendar.

“It should at least break even in the future, if not make revenue,’’ she said.

Jim Hunt, event and program services manager, wrote in a letter to city administration that the event center hosted no fewer than 49 different events in the first 60 days of operations. Most of the events are revenue-generating, he added.

In addition, concession operations are increasing in sales, while party package sales and ice bumper car and skate parties have both been popular revenue-generating events, Hunt wrote.

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Brian Silber, director of Parks and Recreation, said the building — and how many events are scheduled each day — dictate how many hours employees will be working. The revenue coming in pays for each person, he added.

Regarding concession service, City Administrator Britt See-Benes said “these employees pay for themselves and more.’’

One key element for the City Council was making guest services across the board even better.

“It’s all about customer service,’’ Cuffe said.

Councilor Gary Griedlieb said he was pleased with the employees’ efforts so far, but added it's sad to see they are judged by small problems.

Councilor Charlie Baribeau said it’s important to make any changes or add new employees as soon as issues arise. That way, the ITMEC won’t lose events to other places. “You better have the service the first year.’’

Cuffe added the ITMEC charges a premium, “so we better have great service.’’

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