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Water dept. pushes back against mileage logs

ORANGE — In most towns, mileage logs may be seen as a routine, even humdrum administrative task.

Not so in Orange, where this paper trail of employee travel has ignited debate among selectmen, employees and townspeople for nearly two years.

Richard Sheridan raised the hot-button issue once again at a selectmen’s meeting last month. After reviewing the logs in Town Hall, Sheridan noted a few departments were faithfully filling them out.

“I know you’re very busy ... but it’s got to be the buck stops here,” he told selectmen.

About a year ago, selectmen ordered employees to fill out the logs after numerous residents, including Sheridan, pushed for the initiative to improve accountability.

Selectman David Ames moved the board direct department chairs to ensure the logs are filled out more consistently. But Selectmen’s Chairwoman Kathy Reinig noted the Water Department Commissioners decided not to use the logs.

“If the water department doesn’t want to participate, maybe townspeople should consider that the next time (water department officials) want to purchase a piece of equipment,” said Ames.

Water System Operator and SEIU Union President Richard Matthews told The Recorder he was “dumbfounded” by Ames’ suggestion that voters not approve requests for necessary equipment purchases.

Such a move, he said, may pose threats to homeowners as the timely response of water personnel to a water main break or other emergency is critical in mitigating property damage to nearby houses. Ultimately, he said a timely response is dependent on having well-maintained vehicles and equipment.

Water Department Superintendent Michael Heidorn did not attend the meeting. He said that while he did not hear Ames’ comment, “If he’s suggesting that water department capital projects should be held hostage to this policy change on mileage logs, I do not think that’s appropriate.”

Heidorn said Water Commissioners “reviewed this issue and wrote a thoughtful, detailed letter” to selectmen last spring.

The letter concluded the department’s management team was sufficient to ensure employees are doing their job.

The commissioners figured the new practice would require over 60 hours to fill out and coordinate the logs, adding up to over $2,100 of labor costs each year. “We have carefully reviewed this request and believe that it will actually cost the water users significantly more,” they wrote.

“In the entire time I’ve been here, I can’t recall a single time the Board of Selectmen reached out to the Water Department to talk about mileage logs,” Heidorn said.

He added that if a representative from the board were to do so, “I’m sure the commissioners would welcome it.”

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