Marion Department of Public Works gets financial, organizational review

Feb 13, 2020

MARION — A Feb. 12 meeting with the Finance Committee, Board of Selectmen and Department of Public works was a chance to review both the draft of the department’s fiscal year 2021 budget, and a dramatic restructuring it has experienced over the last year.

The Department of Public Works saw a 5% increase in its budget from last year, and drastic changes in its work system because it outsourced trash collection. The department is also feeling the pinch of water expenses.

In July 2019, before the town outsourced its trash collection to Waste Management, it used 5,804 labor hours for trash collection. Once Waste Management took over that labor and automated it, the department was able to cut the task to 456 labor hours.

When Director David Willett started in March 2019, he noted right away that Marion often sent employees into potentially hazardous situations alone, and started working to make the job more safe.

New Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards say that when one person is going into a potentially dangerous place (say a tunnel where they may get trapped), there should be two people there,

But as Willett puts it, “there’s OSHA and then there’s insanity.”

He listed one of his priorities as “finding ways to keep our workers safe and manage budget at same time,”

Also new this year is a work order system that allows employees to handle requests more quickly. Previously the department was more disorganized and sometimes had people call weeks later asking if things had gotten done.

The department hopes to increase its project observation

For 2021 financial requests, the department would like a mowing machine and crack-sealing machine.

In other budget factors, one laborer resigned from his position, and the town decided to leave his position unfunded for this fiscal year, giving them the option to use it again in the future.

The department also anticipates a $107,000 expense with setting up its water quality program, but hopes to cut that in half next year.

Chair of the Finance Committee Peter Winters asked if any of that expense could be pushed onto private properties. Willett explained that it could not.

The draft budget would bring water and sewer rates up 10%, but if the lagoon project had accepted a more expensive bid rate would have been up 20%.

Winters commented that anything to decrease the rate would be appreciated with the inevitable increases involved with paying the lagoon project looming. 

Willett said he will take a second look at the budget.

The town has also slowed some of its water infrastructure work, with no upgrade last summer, a bigger than normal project this summer, and no project next year.

Selectman John Waterman emphasized that the town is getting as many grants as possible to cover the water and sewer deficiency.