Selectboard approves budget 3-2, divided on public works position

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Tuesday, Jan. 21, the Rockingham Selectboard adopted the 2021 budget of $6.2 million and eliminated the director of public works position.

On Jan. 7, Gaetano Putignano suggested to cut Everett Hammond’s position for a savings of $119,500 and Stefan Golec requested information on upcoming projects before they eliminated staff.

Municipal Manager Wendy Harrison explained that “staff does not recommend deleting and believes eliminating this position will cost more than it will save, and will likely result in a reduction of services.” Harrison agreed an engineer was not required for the position of public works director, but that as an engineer, Hammond saved the town money.

Harrison said the largest example of savings was the work on Burt, Blake, and Park streets, although a village project saved the town an estimated $200,000 with a completion date seven years earlier than scheduled.

Harrison mentioned the town’s upcoming projects, including the new Arch Bridge and Depot Street Bridge, that the town will need the public works director. Putignano asked if these would require engineering services.

Harrison replied that it did not, only coordination. Both Griswold Drive and Hyde Hill drainage projects will require an engineer, but the Griswold Drive storm water project is scheduled for this spring.

Harrison shared that an average cost for an outside engineer was $100-130 per hour versus the $60 an hour that Hammond received. She reminded the Selectboard that when the town contracted Hammond as an engineer, the cost was roughly $106,000 for part-time services. Harrison commented that the highway department and finance director also agreed there would not be significant savings and would “slow down” their departments without his help.

Putignano said that people were tired of raised taxes. In the last 10 years, expenses have gone up but the grand list value has remained the same and explained, “When you are in debt, you don’t increase your spending every year. We have to minimize our spending.”

Ben Masure said, “I’m in favor of cutting the public works position. I’ve done my research and compared towns throughout the state, and I don’t think it’s a necessary position.”

Susan Hammond did not agree eliminating the position was the answer and said they should bring the budget “as is to Town Meeting.”

Village President Deborah Wright reminded the Selectboard that the reality was “the voters did not want to make the hard decisions and that is why they elect you.”

Masure made the motion to eliminate Public Works Director Everett Hammond’s position. The vote was approved 3-2 with Susan Hammond and Peter Golec voting against. The 2021 budget passed 3-2 with with approval from Stefan Golec, Putignano, and Masure.

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