Interim offers plan for Orange’s new DPW

ORANGE — Josh Knechtel has been on the job as interim Public Works Superintendent for almost two weeks. In that time, he has come up with a plan to make the new consolidated department more efficient and his new position more doable.

At a meeting earlier this month, selectmen approved the consolidation of several public works functions, including cemeteries, highways, parks and the transfer station. Selectmen appointed Knechtel to oversee the new department until all the details were worked out.

But at last week’s board meeting, Knechtel asked them whether or not he can accept or decline the permanent position if they decide to offer it to him.

“I’m not ready to accept this position now. I’m putting in a lot of hours, but I want to make sure all the bases are covered before I commit to this because I may not live to see July 1.”

“This (job) is ... impossible at this very moment,” he said in an interview after the board meeting, noting he had already logged 19 hours at work that day, having arrived to oversee sanding of roads at 2:30 a.m.

But Knechtel is optimistic the bugs can be worked out, providing town officials seriously consider his recommendations for reorganizing the new department.

“I’m doing this because in my heart I believe this will be a good thing for me, for my family, for the town and the residents. I just want to take this opportunity … to make the changes necessary to make it work.”

He told selectmen his plan looks at how the new department can be managed more realistically by restructuring some jobs and repositioning others to make the most out of existing resources. Knechtel recommends adding one laborer, a working foreman and increased administrative support, as well as the working foreman position Town Administrator Diana Schindler recommended.

Knechtel said the cost of the new positions will be offset by the recent retirement of Highway Superintendent David Frye, who will not be replaced.

Knechtel also asked board members about how they planned to cover the duties he attended to as cemetery/parks superintendent, before his new assignment. He said no one aside from himself is assigned to meet with families and supervise employees at the cemetery office and he can’t complete those tasks when he is working with highway or transfer station crews.

He said his plan does not yet address the need for more staff at the transfer station.

But he added the first few months are a trial period for the new department. More reorganization will likely be needed to create an efficient public works staffing plan and management system.

The Cemetery Commissioners will hold a joint meeting with selectmen on Thursday to discuss the consolidated department and its impact on the management of the town’s cemeteries.

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