By Tyler Murphy
NEW SCOTLAND — Last week, the town board unanimously approved the setting up of a public works department by creating the job of commissioner for the office.
“We now have a department of public works and the title of commissioner — all we need now is a person for the job,” said Supervisor Thomas Dolin after adopting the law.
The board approved an annual salary of $23,490 for the commissioner and will consolidate responsibilities from other municipal employees into the post, primarily some of those currently handled by the highway superintendent.
Highway Superintendent Kenneth Guyer was named deputy superintendent in early last March after the highway superintendent of 18 years, Darrell Duncan, was appointed to a county post as head of public works.
Following Duncan’s departure, town board members reviewed the position and discussed the job’s growing list of responsibilities.
“We’re trying to take some of the burden off the superintendent of highways,” Dolin told The Enterprise this week.
“He has to plow the snow, paves the highway, takes care of the bridges, he’s in charge of the transfer station, in charge of animal control, the parks department, recreational programs; the manager of three buildings, he oversees operations on daily basis for the sewer and water –– of which there are six water districts and one sewer district, and he also does maintenance for the senior-outreach buses and cars,” he told the board at the March meeting following Duncan’s departure.
Guyer was elected to fill out the remainder of Duncan’s term in November and will have to be elected again this year to serve a full two-year term.
The new job requires no specific education or licensing but applicants must be residents of Albany County. The board removed a provision in the law giving preference to New Scotland applicants.
Town attorney Michael Naughton said the using the word “preference” could be problematic and suggested the board remove it saying, “You want to hired the most qualified person; you don’t want to be in a position where you’re choosing between a more qualified person and a resident of the town.”
Another provision eliminated from the bill before it was passed would have given the commissioner the power to “hire, fire and discipline employees” under the office’s purview, said Dolin.
“Those are things that should be reserved for the board,” said Dolin, explaining to council members he wish to make the law as simple as possible to avoid any future employee conflicts and possible lawsuits.
“The more we can put in black and white here, the better,” he said.
Councilman Daniel Mackay said eliminating a $13,000 private contracting fee paid to the town’s engineering firm, Stantec, each year for stormwater management, would help pay for part of the commissioner’s salary.
“That budget item will be deleted for $13,000,” said Mackay, who recommend the town continue to pay the firm until it could hire and train a commissioner.
Mackay said it is important to note for the record and to the public, that the goal of creating a commissioner post was to provide adequate service to residents and save money.
The beginning of the first section of the local law reads: “The town of New Scotland has determined that it is in the best interests of the town to create a department of public works and to transfer or assign certain functions and duties currently being performed by other town employees to the commissioner of public works. This new position is intended to create efficiencies, reduce cost (including the cost of outside consultants and vendors), and provide a better level of service for the residents of the town.”
“I do think we’re going to be held to that statement here,” said Mackay to his fellow council members, “The board should be assessing that on an active basis.”
The board also approved additional compensation for the town’s two code enforcement officers for performing inspections related to stormwater management, outside of their regular duties. Dolin said he meant to include the funds at the town’s re-organizational meeting in January, when the town typically authorizes municipal expenditures and wages.
The town had a stormwater management officer, Paul Cantlin, who retired in January. State law requires the town conduct stormwater management inspections and keep records.
The board approved $1,010 for deputy code enforcement officer and building inspector, Jeremy Cramer and another $3,030 for code enforcement officer, Jeffry Pine, whom Dolin said conducted the majority of the inspections.
The two men will receive additional training and state certification to conduct the inspections, said Dolin. He said it made sense to designate the building inspectors with the extra tasks because they were already visiting construction sites for their other duties.
It was unclear it the stormwater inspections would eventually be delegated to the public works commissioner since the town has yet to officially define the job’s responsibilities.
“There are no specifics in the law; the job description is a separate matter,” said Councilman Doug LaGrange.
“We’re in the process of trying to hire a commissioner of public works. The board’s thinking at this time, is this is a job a person we hire could take on,” said Dolin.
The responsibilities have not been formally defined by the board, Dolin said the town had a good enough understanding of the tasks to begin advertising the position and reviewing applicants.
“They are not formalized in a resolution but we know some of them will probably include stormwater management, maintenance of buildings, possibly the administration side of the water and sewer districts,” he said.
Dolin said he hopes to have the job defined and a commissioner hired by the end of April.
The board’s next regular meeting is at 7 p.m. on March 13 at the town hall.