FinCom Says “No” to Two Additional DPW Grounds Staff

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

Although the Town’s Finance Committee (FinCom) combed thoroughly through the Selectmen’s department budgets, it was the request for two additional Grounds Division staff for the DPW that captured the majority of attention at Thursday night’s FinCom meeting.

This week’s discussion followed up on the presentation by Town Manager Rick Reed and DPW Director Rich Warrington on January 31, which made a case for additional personnel due to an increasingly burdensome workload in the areas for which the Grounds Division crew is responsible, including maintenance and preparation of athletic fields, cemetery upkeep and interments, roadside mowing, tree removal and trimming, leaf pick up on public grounds, support for conservation land and traffic island maintenance, holiday decorations and oversight of public land trash barrels. The Grounds Division also participates in road preparation and snow removal as well as equipment maintenance during the winter months, Warrington explained at the January 31 meeting.

To read the article about this presentation, see:

After lengthy discussion, consensus was reached among FinCom members that it would be more prudent to delay hiring new staff until it is better understood how the DPW’s workload will shift once Sabourin Football Field is “turfed.” The number of man hours dedicated to the upkeep of Sabourin was one of the major justifications for installing synthetic turf.

“The workload on [the DPW Grounds crew] will definitely be reduced in the next fiscal year,” said FinCom member Rich Bowen. “If you put the two people on, they’re in there for perpetuity. We’ve heard some push back from DPW that the level of standards is high— comparatively speaking—[but] there are residents who say otherwise. Whatever [the case], there’s one major field in the next fiscal year that DPW will not have to maintain. This seems to be an opportunity to see what happens after they redeploy that labor.”

Bowen’s colleague Meredith McCulloch agreed. “Part of the argument for Sabourin Field being turf was to save on labor,” McCulloch said. “At that point, we were told that we’d be able to maintain the fields without additional help. The views of that may have changed—and there’s a lot of talk about standards being higher for all of the grounds—but I’d like to give it a year and see. This is $100,000 [for two salaries plus benefits] forever.”

FinCom member Ben Thomas tried to clarify the situation as it had been presented the week before. “I’m not taking a position, I am just reporting what I believe that I heard and that is that since we last added employees to that division, the total amount of work and the total amount of fields under care—and parks and roadways—in this town has increased dramatically. That’s what I believe I heard as a counterargument last week.”

“I’d like to at least give it a year,” said FinCom member Barbara Perry. “I agree with Meredith on that—or a couple of years, until we have Sabourin online, until we have a better idea of what we’re going to be doing about other field changes or additions. In the meantime, if necessary, some work could be contracted out. And then [we’ll be in a better position to know what to do] once we get to the point where we either know what our field situation is—or is likely to be—because we have the complete plan. Perhaps we’ll only need one additional person. I have a hard time going along with two additional people. It’s more than I can conceive of—that’s a one-third increase [from current staff levels].”

‘I am still somewhat concerned that I don’t understand how some other towns have been able to save money [by subcontracting out work,]” added Thomas. “That may not be true—but I haven’t heard anything that leads me to believe it is either demonstrably true or untrue. And I would love to know the answer to that question: Is it really true? Whether they do or they don’t—and whether we would or we wouldn’t—it seems like a reasonable question, . . .I don’t see how knowing the answer can possibly harm us. . . .Two [additional staff] seems like a big jump to me.”

Committee member Stephen Steele agreed with Thomas.  He added, “I think looking at how we maintain fields is [something we should do.]

Town Manager Rick Reed then attempted to make clear the DPW’s assessment of how turfing Sabourin field—plus the addition of two grass fields—would affect the department’s workload. “I just want to clarify again: When the DPW was asked if as a result of [the] construction of fields on St. Michael’s land they [would] need additional people, they [answered] that with the change at Sabourin and bringing on the new fields at St. Michael’s, that conversion [to artificial turf] wouldn’t [necessitate] adding more people. It wasn’t speaking to what’s happened over time [with a general increase in Grounds Division workload], as we showed you last week.”

“So perhaps we misunderstood,” Thomas replied.

Selectman Bill Moonan, also in attendance at the meeting, added his views, though he was careful to say that the opinions were his own and not a reflection of the views of his fellow Selectmen.

“I think we should take one year to find out what we can accomplish with the people that we have and what kind of resting –or non-resting [of fields] exists,” Moonan said.  “We also have a Fields Study Committee [ORASC] that I trust is finishing its job up, which would include some thoughts that would impact this [decision]. And we have reports [about savings from subcontracting] from towns that may or may not be comparable to Bedford.

“I’m not suggesting we should go to subcontracting, but I think we should investigate it and have it as an alternative,” Moonan continued. “If the best way to go forward is to hire two more people, we can do that, but I’d rather have more data. . . .Maybe Mr. Warrington has been thinking about it for years but from my standpoint, this is a very short time period to me, making such a significant percentage increase. As Mr. Bowen said, this is forever.”

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