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WVN #308: DPW projects; State OKs H.S. plan

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, Donald Ouellette is new to Wayland as the director of the new Department of Public Works, which consolidated several departments on July
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 3, 2009
      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Donald Ouellette is new to Wayland as the director of the new Department of Public Works, which consolidated several departments on July 1.

      If you've been at the Town Building recently you've noticed extensive remodeling reflecting the changes.

      For a look at what's going on and what may lie ahead, WVN interviewed Ouellette and Jack Mitchell, former water superintendent who is supervising the installation of a new treatment plant at the Baldwin well.

      Also in this newsletter: State officials have accepted Wayland's plan for a new high school. Watch for a town vote in the fall.


      Ouellette has been trying to get the proposed Route 30/Route 27 intersection, long in need of improvement, back on track to become eligible for federal money, either from the state Transportation Improvement Program or from federal stimulus money. In order to get this funding, documents must be submitted to the appropriate agencies and the Metropolitan Planning Organization for Northern Middlesex needs to be kept informed. Ouellette estimates about $800,000 for this project.

      This project has a long history. In May 2000, Town Meeting voted to establish a Route 30 traffic intersections committee and authorized it to spend $20,000 on consulting services to complete design studies to improve the Route 27/30 intersection and the School Street/ Route 30 intersection. The committee hired a consultant and worked on a re-design of only the Route 27/30 intersection. This design was probably close to 25 percent of what would be considered full design drawings.

      In 2003, Town Meeting voted against spending $57,000 to complete the final design of improvements for the Route 27/30 intersection. The Finance Committee recommended against the expenditure.

      Thereafter, Stephen "Stubby" Kadlik, the Wayland highway director, worked with MassHighway and got the project on the Transportation Improvement Projects List eligible for state funding. Kadlik also submitted comments during the permitting process for the Natick Mall concerning that project's impacts to the Route 27/30 intersection and obtained a commitment for $25,000 toward reconstructing the intersection.

      Then the Board of Road Commissioners contracted with Camp, Dresser, & McGee to bring the existing partial design further along to satisfy the requirements of the TIP program.

      But Wayland missed a deadline to keep the town on the list. Just how that happened hasn't been explained. One possibility that was mentioned was that a letter from the oversight agency was erroneously routed to the town planner and arrived when the planner's post was vacant. Ouellette is trying to get the project back on the list.


      Ouellette anticipates that a new DPW headquarters will be built in the near future (perhaps after the high school improvements, which may be before voters in the fall) at the present location of the salt shed on River Road (behind the transfer station).

      Ouellette said the present road department facility near the Middle School is not in good shape. Although town mechanics have been cleaning vehicles there and doing minor repairs, conditions are difficult. Ouellette said that there is not enough storage space for vehicles nor enough office space.

      When a new facility is constructed, Ouellette said that the entire DPW staff would move to the new location and vacate the office space in the town building and elsewhere. Vehicles from the water, parks and roads divisions would all be stored at the new location.

      This facility has been under discussion for some time.

      In May 2005, Town Meeting voted $35,000 " to be expended by the Board of Road Commissioners and Park and Recreation Commission to conduct a study to evaluate possible locations for a new or expanded joint Highway Department and Park and Recreation garage facility".

      The Finance Committee recommended against the study and any resulting renovation or new construction costs because of the financial condition of the town; however, Town Meeting voted for the article and approved the expenditure.

      The boards contracted with Weston & Sampson to do the study. A final report was issued on Oct. 30, 2006 estimating a $9.9 million cost. All of the work was conducted so that the facility would also be able to accommodate other departments that could be rolled into a DPW.

      The boards submitted a warrant article for the 2007 Annual Town Meeting to design and build a new facility but the Selectmen would not include it in the Warrant.


      The DPW will have to hire two new employees for the water division at the end of September. The new Baldwin plant will probably come on line in November and two current employees will run the new plant while the two new employees will take their place in the labor pool. Details below.


      At last, an explanation for the decision to make all water users pay an extra $236 per year. Ouellette explained that this was put forth by the Water Commission this year because it felt that charging an amount proportional to water use would motivate more of the bigger customers to leave the system. Ouellette said that two very large water users drilled their own wells last year, causing other users to pay more to cover water costs.

      Ouellette said that water taken by well-drillers did not come from the same aquifer the town uses for its water, as far as he knew. However, a member of the Wellhead Protection Committee points out that nearly all of the sub-aquifers in town are part of the larger aquifer that feeds the Sudbury River.


      Ouellette will be pushing for a fixed network water metering system. In this system, water use is transmitted electronically to a receiving antenna. If there is an unusual spike in someone's water use, an alarm is also transmitted. This would eliminate abatements paid when there has been a broken pipe, and broken pipes would be fixed quickly. The system would save money in the long run not only from undetected broken pipes but also because meter readers would not have to be sent out.

      Other towns such as Framingham and Medford have been using this system successfully, according to Ouellette. He believes it is much better than a drive-by system such as the town proposed at 2008 Town Meeting. This proposal, where water employees would drive by houses and pick up signals electronically once a month, was turned down by the voters. The installation costs were estimated at $650,000.

      Ouellette gave illustrations from other towns in which such a system helped customers understand why some bills were larger than expected. For example, an irate customer complained only to find that the one day that accounted for the extra use was the day he filled his swimming pool.


      Jack Mitchell, of the consulting firm Weston and Sampson, has been working full-time for Wayland on a contract basis since April 2008. He has been acting as water superintendent and has been mentoring Wayland employees so that they can take over many of his duties when the new Baldwin water treatment plant is on line.

      Although a press release from the Town Administrator's office printed in the Town Crier July 16 said that Mitchell's position was eliminated with the creation of the DPW, he will continue to work for the town for a few more months.

      Mitchell will stay on in Wayland on a contract basis for the start-up of the plant, to begin operations in late November. He will probably depart next January but be available by telephone for consultation.

      Several water division employees have been getting certified so that they will be able to take over operation of the new plant when Mitchell leaves. In particular, Don Millette, now the water superintendent in the new DPW, has treatment and distribution certifications at grade three. Brian Vaudreuil has certifications at grade two.

      Wayland had been without a water superintendent since 2004 and the department had been understaffed. In June 2008 two new employees were hired who are now working under OIT (Operator In Training) grade. These two employees can operate under supervision of someone who has certification.

      Part of Mitchell's job had been to get the water department back up to adequate staffing levels.

      Mitchell says he was especially impressed with the former water commissioners, whose elected posts were eliminated by the DPW. He called their high level of commitment unusual. In the absence of a superintendent, commissioners had to take on too much day-to-day responsibility, Mitchell said.


      When the DPW was proposed, there was much resistance, some from elected officials whose posts would be eliminated. The proponents' goal was long-term savings through efficiency, but in the end there was a projection of $115,000 in immediate salary savings and another $12,000 elsewhere.

      After WVN questioned some of the calculations, the town administrator's office issued a detailed press release. Based on figures provided to the public, it remains difficult to see how the $115,000 estimate was calculated.

      Keep in mind that the projected savings are a small fraction of one percent of the town budget. Long-term savings may be there, but they would be impossible to prove conclusively in the absence of an alternative history without the DPW.

      One mechanic retired with a salary of $50,000. A person in the labor pool was promoted to his place and then that person's one labor pool slot was dropped, with a salary less than $50,000. This saves the town less than $50,000.

      Nancy McShea was the only town employee to have her salary reduced. This was because she became recreation director rather than park and recreation director, causing a reduction in grade. Her 35-hour salary was reduced by $16,600 due to the DPW reorganization, according to John Senchyshyn, assistant town administrator.

      In a separate agreement, McShea recouped her lost salary by working a 40-hour week and having Sudbury pay half her salary.

      One new person was hired for the DPW, the director, Donald Ouellette, at a salary of $93,000. The new cost of $93,000 minus the savings of at most $50,000 from the retirement not replaced and at most $16,600 from McShea's grade reduction, does not add up to an immediate salary saving due to DPW reorganization.

      No other existing employees moved from or to the Wayland staff. All employees except Nancy McShea and the retired mechanic got the usual cost of living increase (which they would have gotten whether or not there was a DPW).

      Two foremen were promoted to superintendent and had their average overtime added to their salaries. Although they will still be required to respond to emergencies without receiving overtime, this could result in calling someone who will get overtime pay to treat the problem.

      Two other foremen were demoted in title to labor pool or mechanic positions, but their salaries were not lowered.

      Because these two former foremen have different titles and because McShea is no longer in the DPW, the press release from the town administrator's office claims a loss of three supervisory positions (directors, superintendents and foremen combined) due to DPW reorganization. In spite of these title changes, all of these people are still town employees and the former foremen did not have their salaries reduced.

      An estimate of about $10,000 in saved overtime pay was made by the town administrator's office due to sharing the overtime pool. It remains to be seen how much savings in overtime will actually be realized.

      It has been claimed that savings would result from synergies across functions. But employees from different divisions have been working together for many years. For example, town employees who can drive any kind of truck work together on snow removal. When a water main breaks, both road department employees and water department employees work together. Vehicles have been routinely shared across departments.

      Whether or not there was a DPW, the town needed to hire someone like Jack Mitchell to supervise the installation of the new water treatment plant and act as water superintendent and train current employees until they became certified. After Mitchell oversees the start-up of the plant, the town will no longer have to pay his contract fees. But this is not because there is a DPW.

      There will be new expenses since two additional water employees must still be hired to replace those who will run the water treatment plant once it is on line. These new expenses would have occurred with or without DPW reorganization.

      The Water Commission and the Board of Road Commissioners were disbanded. Two other boards now have diminished responsibilities. (The Board of Health no longer oversees the landfill and the recreation commission no longer is concerned with parks.) So we have lost some town expertise and town memory.

      Ouellette said that taxpayers should look at what value they are getting for their money. Are the roads repaired and the intersections safe? Is the water clean? Are we paying money for old systems when new ones like the fixed network system for water meters save money? Will the new DPW headquarters help the town respond to problems faster and more efficiently? Would these improvements have occurred whether or not there was a DPW reorganization?

      -- Betty Salzberg


      The Massachusetts School Building Authority has accepted Wayland's plan for a new high school.

      "The MSBA board approved Wayland's preferred option for schematic design" as of July 29, High School Building Committee chair Lea Anderson told WVN.

      The preferred option provides for two buildings totaling 154,350 square feet, about 2,000 more than the state standard. The MSBA is willing to allow the extra space to accommodate Wayland's extra program needs, such as music.

      However, Anderson told the School Committee, if it turns out that the cost of two buildings is higher than the same space in one building the state might not reimburse for the differential.

      The agreement guarantees 40 percent reimbursement of most of the costs. The state will also help to renovate the Field House, up to the cost of standard new athletic facilities for the planned 900-student capacity. The renovated Field House will provide more space than normally allocated for this size school.

      Athletic interests had originally requested nearly twice the space, but the School Committee instructed the HSBC to plan for only state-approved space. Overly generous athletic facilities were cited one of the issues resulting in the town's voting down the last high school proposal in 2005.

      Another major issue in that vote was what some described as excessive size. The MSBA was actively involved in making population projections this time around, resulting in a 900- versus 1100-student capacity in 2005.

      The 40 percent reimbursement doesn't apply to a new waste water treatment plant, demolition of the existing buildings, or community cable TV studio. The town will have to figure out what to do about WayCAM, which is currently housed at the high school. WayCAM staff teach high school media courses, but most of the needed space is for Waycam's community TV function.

      Wayland officials are planning for a fall vote on the high school plan.


      The costly Special Education population in the Wayland schools is creeping up to almost 19 percent , according to Director of Student Services Marlene Dodyk.

      "That's alarming", she said. "As we raise the bar for what we expect from kids in general, more qualify for special ed." The local increase tracks a nationwide trend. Most requests for evaluations come from parents. In one cited case, a B student got one C and the parents requested an evaluation for disability.

      Special Education costs account for about half of the increase in the school budget this year. (See WVN # 278) http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waylandvotersnetwork/message/315


      The Finance Committee has come up with a new list of peer towns to compare with Wayland. Member Jeff Dieffenbach doesn't like the list. It appears to focus on financial measures. The School Committee list uses measures like student-teacher ratios and per-pupil expenditures to pick comparable towns, which allows the comparison of outcomes (e.g. test scores) for comparable inputs.

      Presumably, using comparable financial metrics like median income is useful in comparing level of spending for towns with a comparable level of affluence.

      -- Tom Sciacca
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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor
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