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Orange workers: mileage reports  a waste of time

ORANGE — While residents and officials may agree that increased accountability of town services is a good goal, their opinions differ widely on how to get to there.

Several initiatives discussed at last week’s selectmen’s meeting aim to keep better track of employee performance in carrying out the town’s business. But employees and managers are pushing back on one of these measures they say will do little more than waste a whole lot of time.

Water Commissioners Donald Barnes, Richard Kilhart and Donald Priestley wrote a letter to selectmen expressing their concerns about the selectmen’s recent request that all employees track their mileage.

The new mileage tracking system was initiated at the urging of members of the Orange Taxpayers Association, who said the system would ensure town vehicles were used for town business.

The five commissioners complained the “program as presented has no clear description of its intended benefits or goals … and is not a productive way of trying to measure the efficiency or effectiveness with which … employees are completing tasks.”

But Orange Taxpayers Association Member Henry Oertell told selectmen that tracking mileage is “not about completing tasks … As a citizen I want to know what the town trucks are doing; how many trips to Cumberland Farms or Dunkin’ Donuts are they making?”

The commissioners contend the department’s management team is 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 …”

Selectman George Willard said, “We initiated this at the request of the taxpayers. It would behoove them to realize they do work for the taxpayers.”

Oertell agreed, adding “if something were to happen and (the water department) needed more money, they would go back to the taxpayers … we are asking for some accountability … it’s not a hard thing to do — it will only take them a few minutes” to log their mileage.

But Selectman Kathy Reinig questioned the effectiveness of the logs in ensuring whether town vehicles are being used properly. “What value are we getting out of requesting these logs that … justifies making it a requirement?” she asked.

Town Administrator Diana Schindler agreed there are better ways to keep employees on track and prevent problems such as personal use of town vehicles.

She expressed more enthusiasm for the new online work order tracking program that will allow residents to report and track non-emergency neighborhood problems such as broken sidewalks or potholes.

Cemetery Superintendent Josh Knechtel said he will be helping Schindler administer the Commonwealth Connect program, which is supported by a three-year state grant.

The grant will allow the town to install and implement See-Click-Fix, a technology that allows residents to report and track non-emergency problems through the Web and their mobile devices. Once a problem is reported, residents and managers can track it online to see if it has been fixed by the estimated repair date.

Schindler said the program increases transparency and accountability of town services to make sure reported problems are completed in a timely way. According to Schindler, the See-Click-Fix program “gives us another way to collect the data we need to make improvements” in order to make town services more efficient and accountable to tax payers.

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