As the Cheshire Town Council has continued its budget workshops, reviewing the various funding requests from government departments, the issue of staffing has come up quite often.
Both the Fire and the Police Departments have requested funding to address personnel issues, and at the most recent budget workshop, on April 1, the topic came up again during a discussion over the Public Works Department’s $6.9 million request.
At the beginning of the presentation, Public Works Director George Noewatne highlighted an issue that the Department will be facing come June.
“Don Nolte, our engineering operations manager for the past 11 years, will be retiring in June,” Noewatne explained. “He’s been a fantastic asset to us. He has worked every position from engineering technician to engineering operations manager — he’s done it all. … Given all the recent retirements and restructuring of the department, we’ve sort of unwittingly gutted the entire engineering side of the house here.”
To fix this, Noewatne has suggested the hiring of an Assistant Town Engineer to replace the role of the Engineering Operations Manager.
“Doing this will allow us to have a professional engineer on staff, which will certainly be beneficial,” detailed Noewatne. “… And there is still a need for a full-time Town Engineer, which we also do not currently have.”
For the past year, Noewatne has budgeted roughly $45,000 for the town to hire out engineering services, something that would not need to be done if the Town had a full-time engineer.
“The past few years have been very intense on development in town, and that is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon,” Noewatne added. “We’ve had our contracted-out engineer since September of last year. … But it is projected that we would need to spend about $120,000 on these services for the upcoming year.”
A full-time engineer would cost the Town roughly $140,000 per year, with benefits, and the individual would be on staff rather than available on a per-project basis, according to Noewatne.
“We’re obviously happy to continue the current setup we have for the next year, and that’s what we have budgeted for, but I wanted to give just a snapshot of where we are at, in terms of personnel requests,” Noewatne concluded. “We’re certainly getting good service from the firms that we do hire, but it is a large volume of work … to keep up with the modern regulations, it may make sense to get someone full-time.”
Mid-presentation, Council Chair Rob Oris asked Noewatne whether he believed the hours that are expected to be logged by the current engineering firms will increase in the next year, given all the new development projects planned in 2021 and beyond.
“I wish I had a better crystal ball,” said Noewatne. “If development moderates, I think that amount ($120,000) would come down fairly dramatically … but right now, as you touched on, Mr. Oris, there is a lot of development in town and it’s a great thing for the grand list … but my hope is that it will kind of moderate itself. I do think we are at a bit of a peak here.”
“Sounds like you are making the argument to ‘wait and see’?” asked Oris.
“I would caution that, and maybe next year we can see where we are and come back and re-evaluate,” Noewatne stated.