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Orange moves toward DPW consolidation

ORANGE — After 17 years of overseeing the patching, plowing and sanding of Orange roadways, Highway Superintendent David Frye will resign later this month.

Selectmen accepted Frye’s resignation at their Wednesday meeting, paving the way for town officials to reorganize the department as well as several other public works functions.

Town Administrator Diana Schindler recommended the board consolidate the highway department with the transfer station and cemetery and park departments. She said the reorganization would cost roughly the same amount of money and be a more efficient use of town resources.

Schindler said that the current organization of those departments is “top heavy … with a lot of managers … and lacking labor and clerical (staff).”

She proposed the board appoint Highway and Parks Superintendent Josh Knechtel as the Department of Public Works superintendent to oversee highways, parks, cemeteries and the transfer station. The board approved Knechtel’s appointment.

She also proposed the town hire a working foreman to oversee public works projects on site, boosting the pool of labor in those departments.

Frye said that he, Knechtel and Sanitation Superintendent Priscilla Curtis have been meeting throughout the fall to develop a plan for the details of the consolidation. “This thing is going to be so flexible [that] if in six months it’s not working, you can tweak it,” he told selectmen, encouraging them to approve the initiative.

Schindler added the reorganization would not involve the water or sewer departments, which operate on budgets supported by ratepayers using town water and sewer services. Earlier this year voters approved moving forward with plans for a more formal Department of Public Works that may include those two departments, as well.

Any plan that involves the dissolution of the separate commissions of the water, sewer and cemetery departments will ultimately require legislative approval.

While the cemetery department has its own commission, the department operates under the town budget.

The consolidated department that Knechtel will oversee does not involve dissolution of any separate management structure and will not require legislative approval.

Selectmen George Willard said he expected the cemetery commissioners to be “quite amiable about this.” But he said the commissioners will need to vote on the consolidation.

“I’m all for installing Josh in that position,” said Willard, who added that while Knechtel is a “perfect fit” for the cemetery department, his talents, skills and work ethic could benefit the town even more as director of public works.

Selectmen discussed holding a joint meeting with the commissioners at their meeting next Thursday to discuss the initiative.

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