Highway department navigates job cuts

Two job cuts saving $141,000 would lead to a nearly 7% decline in highway department spending in the $2.8 million proposed 2019-20 budget for the coming fiscal year. But the Board of Selectmen agreed to consider adding a position to the department’s crew of driver-laborers. 
“Let’s talk about it, see what we can do, get creative,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said to fellow selectmen.
The cost of adding a driver-laborer is about $96,000 — base salary of $60,200 and a benefits cost of $35,400.
A highway department delegation — Public Works Director Peter Hill, foreman Dave Buccitti and head mechanic Burt Motta — discussed the department’s budget, road repair and capital spending plans with the selectmen on Feb. 6.
The department had lost two positions — a foreman and an office manager — earlier this year in the town’s staff reorganization. And in his initial budget request Hill reiterated a long-standing request to add two positions to the department’s crew of driver-labors — but the requested new positions had already been cut from the budget by the first selectman, though he gave the department a chance to make the case for them to the full Board of Selectmen.
One approach the selectmen discussed to hold down employee costs would be to contract out a portion of the summer paving work — some longer roads, maybe some school parking lots — reducing the need for more driver-laborers.
“You need the drivers in the winter time,” said Buccitti.
Overall, the public works department employs the 16 driver laborers, four mechanics, two supervisors, two part-time clerks and three part-time attendants at the town’s brush and wood chipping area.
In the capital budget — more expensive projects and purchases usually paid for with borrowing in the bond market — the department proposes spending $652,000. The big items are a $197,000 Mack dump truck with plow — one the dig red town plow-trucks — a road sweeper for $255,000 and a low-boy dump truck $65,000.
Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark asked about standing water and icing that’s been visible along roadsides in greater quantities than she could remember.
“It’s because we’ve had so much rain,” said Hill. “...We have areas we’ve never had icing problems.”
Marconi said that last year had been the fifth wettest year on record.
“And people don’t wait to complain,” he added.