May 21, 2019 10:14:50 AM
Twelve high school and college students began working on the Lowndes County Road Department Monday as part of a 12-week summer work program.
The program, which will run through early August, provides 40-hour per week jobs at $10 per hour. All of the students work in the road department.
"They work just like our regular workers," said county road manager Ronnie Burns. "It's turned out really well. The kids get to work with us, like they're in the department. It's a good experience for them and we get some good workers too."
Students enrolled in the program work with road department crews on road repairs and debris cleanup and respond to any other calls the department receives as if they were "regular employees." The main focus of the program is work experience, but Burns said students also benefit from the experience of receiving their own -- sometimes their very first -- paycheck.
"It does them real good to be using their own money," he said. "We show them how direct deposit works, they get their paychecks on the first and 15th (of the month) just like we do and we explain that to them. ... For some of them, that's their first job, so it's good for them."
It's not all work and no play. One of the highlights of the summer, Burns said, is allowing students to operate backhoes or other heavy equipment -- with supervision, of course.
"We do all the safety training, we do all the hard work out in the heat, but we let them have fun too," he said. "We let them play a little. We didn't just want this to be all hard work. It is, but we want them to have fun too. They are kids and it's the summer."
Burns, who has led the work program for over a decade, said he has seen nothing but positive results from the program.
"They come and they do real hard work, and we get some great workers out of it," he said. "They're working just like they're on the road department so it frees up more people to do other work. ... So they help us too."
Meanwhile, Columbus will not hold a summer work program as it has in years past due to lack of funding.
Interim Director of City Planning And Community Development George Irby told The Dispatch grants from the Mississippi Department of Transportation that once funded almost half of the program costs have been unavailable since 2017. The city picked up the tab through its budget last year, providing $35,000 for the program.
This year, however, the city cannot provide the funds.
"I don't know why for sure, but I would assume it's because of the city's financial situation," Irby said.
In the past, the city's program, which ran for almost 30 years, usually offered full-time, minimum-wage jobs for up to 25 summer workers, ages 16-24, and it lasted eight weeks. Most students worked in the public works department.
The city is currently observing a hiring freeze to mitigate spending after two straight years of operating at deficits exceeding $800,000.
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