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Orange takes first steps toward DPW

ORANGE — Creating a true department of public works will take more time and require officials to cut a lot more red tape, but the groundwork was laid last week so a few town departments can work more efficiently and collaboratively together.

In their Wednesday meeting, selectmen approved consolidating functions of the transfer station, cemetery and parks departments.

The decision came a week after residents and officials expressed reservations about moving forward with the initiative so quickly, without securing legislative and town approval to consolidate departments overseen by separate commissions.

Robert Andrews said, “To do things right will take a couple of years. If you go to a true DPW, you have to dissolve cemetery, water, sewer departments ... we need a board of directors focused on the DPW.”

Finance Committee Chairman Linda Smith put it more bluntly: “Here we go again, jumping into things like we always do with both feet before we take a look at where we’re going.”

Smith said she likes the idea of creating a DPW, but does not think it should take place without more discussion, planning, and approval on town floor.

But Town Administrator Diana Schindler said efficiencies can be created long before legislators stamp their approval for the dissolution of separate commissions.

In her budget presentation to the board, she set aside $1 as a placeholder for a public works superintendent, a position that cannot be filled before officials jump through a few more administrative hoops.

“Right now, I am just recommending the reallocation and consolidation of public works functions.” Schindler said she agrees “the future of a true DPW is on town meeting floor.”

In the interim, she recommended increasing the salary of Cemetery Superintendent Josh Knechtel by $7,468 so he can perform additional duties overseeing the transfer station and parks.

Currently, parks are overseen by Highway Department Superintendent David Frye. But Schindler said that since Frye’s salary was reduced during the budget crises, he has not worked full time.

Schindler advocated level-funding Frye’s salary and moving park maintenance duties under “a superintendent who is very capable of carrying out those responsibilities.” She added there are many unmet needs in the parks that warrant more attention than the cadre of volunteers who work in them can provide.

On Thursday, the Finance Committee approved increasing Knechtel’s salary by $3,520, and decreasing Frye’s salary by the same amount.

Smith said, “It only makes sense to decrease (Frye’s) pay if he has decreased duties.” She said she was unaware Frye was working part-time until Schindler’s presentation.

Smith added the committee allowed a lower increase on Knechtel’s salary in alignment with their goal to not include any new positions in the budget.

“It’s about being fair to all employees — it’s not about Josh. If there was any employee we should give an award to, it’s him. He’s gone way beyond what has been asked of him time and time again.”

The Finance Committee previously approved Schindler’s request for an additional part-time employee that will “float” between departments, working on parks, cemetery and transfer station projects as needed.

While Knechtel’s salary increase is not what Schindler requested, these two personnel shifts will allow her to jump-start the process of eventually building a more efficient public works team.

The team will eventually tackle bigger projects in the transfer station, cemeteries or parks more effectively than if the individual departments worked separately on them.

She also maintains that working together creates a more collaborative workplace spirit, boosting employee morale and productivity.

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