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Buckfield rethinks road crew
BUCKFIELD — Selectman Robin Buswell says that he's not happy with the current Public Works Department, and he's submitted a proposal to do something about it.
The proposal is the latest event in a long-simmering situation that has seen some taxpayers criticize expenses within the Public Works Department.
Buswell said he would like to see the job of Public Works Superintendent Phil Savage redefined, including fewer administrative duties, more hands-on crew supervision, and a pay cut.
Buswell, who says he has lost sleep over the issue, became concerned when he observed some inefficiencies during a project that was collaborated on by the town's road crew and a contractor.
"On site, we had three town employees, three outside contractors, one excavator, two outside trucks, and one town truck," said Buswell. "I was there for 45 minutes. I never saw more than two people working at any one point."
Buswell suggested that, instead of waiting to do work at that project, the crew members could have been redirected to other, productive tasks.
"I feel that if somebody with authority had seen this, they could have delegated our three people to have gone," said Buswell. "Within a mile and a half of this job, there were three culverts that needed to be replaced and had been on the list since May."
Buswell stressed that he did not perceive it to be a question of laziness, but one of efficient project supervision.
"I'm not saying that our boys were goofing off, because they weren't," he said. "They were waiting for this job to be done, so they could do their job."
Buswell said that what he observed was not an isolated incident.
"I know it's not the only time that this happens," he said. "It's not only my opinion, because there are other taxpayersrs that contacted me that day, More than one."
Buswell said that inefficiencies made a bad impression on the public.
"We did not put our good foot forward into the community," he said. "Everybody is under the microscope when the taxes go up every year. When the taxes go up, people get picky. I get picky. That's what they elected me to do."
The solution, said Buswell, is to redefine the role of Public Works Superientendent, a recently-created title upgrade for former Road Foreman Savage.
Buswell submitted a suggested revised job description, and an explanatory note that targeted many of the administrative duties performed by Savage, including "making calls to line up equipment, overseeing purchasing for the department, coordinating the next job, meeting with vendors to make purchases, and working to develop a budget."
Much of the language in Buswell's description would require that the superientendent "supervise and work with" the road crew on items, while the existing description tends to require that he "supervise and assist."
Over the years, Savage has come to take on more administrative tasks associated with public works, tasks that critics say should be performed by the Road Commissioner, a title that Glen Holmes holds in addition to that of town manager.
"We're looking to realign" said citizen Martha Catavenis, who recently sought to fill a seat on the selectboard, "and for the Road Commissioner to take the responsibilities that were his to begin with, that somehow, somehow got pushed down onto others."
Catavenis said that a road crew of one is too small to justify the management position.
"I can't think of a construction company, or a Department of Transportation crew that is one person and a supervisor," she said. "That is just not economical."
Buswell noted that three quarters of the Superientendent's job description involved "paperwork and pencilwork."
"We have one-and-one-quarter-man doing work, and two call-ins," said Buswell. "I just don't think we can justify that."
"I don't think it's anything the superientendent has done deliberately," said Buswell. "I don't think it's anything the town has done deliberately ... I just think it's happened over time."
Newly-elected John Lowell said that he felt like it was a good conversation to have, and that it fit into a larger picture in which the town should be continually reassessing whether job descriptions fit the needs of the town.
"What you're bringing up is totally in line with what we should probably be doing anyways," said Lowell. "Does it still fit where we're at? We have some hardworking people that maybe we're not setting up in the best possible way."
However, Lowell cautioned that the town shouldn't act too hastily.
"We don't want to knee-jerk and go in the wrong direction and have the pendulum swing back the other way," said Lowell. "Let's just have a good open process, and we can all have an opportunity to weigh in."
Holmes said that he felt, for the most part, like everyone was on the same page.
"I met with Mr. Savage today, and we talked about the proposal," said Holmes.
"I can tell you that, based on that conversation, I don't think that this will be a problem," said Holmes. "I fully understand the direction I think [the town] wants to go, and based on that, I think we can come up with a very good, very approvable document very rapidly."
Holmes said he thought a good starting point would be to allow him and Savage "to look at the job description that Mr. Buswell 's put forward and let us turn it into the same format as what the current [job descriptions] are, and see how much we feel they're aligned appropriately, and what may be wrong, and then bring that back to the board."
Buswell said that he would like to see more accountability.
I don't have any problem with this except for one line," said Hotham.
"I bet I know what that line is," said Buswell.
The proposal contains a line that suggests a pay cut of $1 per hour for the Superintendent.