By DAVID CARKHUFF, LACONIA DAILY SUN
SANBORNTON — The town interviewed candidates to fill a sixth slot in the Department of Public Works Friday, after the department director made it clear he needed a snow plow truck driver after an exhausting winter.
Multiple snow storms and rain storms created freezing conditions that put pressure on road departments and their budgets.
In mid-February, selectmen learned that the town was over its sand and salt budget by $15,000. The budget for contracted snow removal also ran low, but department overtime funding remained stable, aided by the use of contracted plow drivers.
Brian Bordeau, director of the Public Works Department in Sanbornton, said this winter presented a worst-case scenario, as storms pounded the town and its nearly 90 miles of roads while the department was down a driver.
"We've always had six people for the highway department," he said. "This particular winter, we lost two in the fall. We found another employee and hired him. This year, we had an additional truck with a plow wing and sander that we hadn't had in the past to help make our job easier. So the lack of that one person basically fell on my shoulders to climb into a plow truck with a sander and do the same type of work that they're doing as a plow member. The rest of the guys stepped up and took on additional responsibilities."
At a selectmen's meeting on Wednesday, Chairman Karen Ober floated the idea of not replacing the sixth plow truck driver and using contract services instead.
Bordeau said he needs the sixth driver as well as the contracted plow services. The board took no action as a result of the discussion, and town staff indicated that interviews were taking place Friday to fill the sixth driver's position.
Bordeau said he was surprised by the suggestion to leave the job unfilled, saying the department puts in "an average of four to five hours after a storm is over to clean up, hit the routes, get the roads plowed."
"That was kind of a surprise," he admitted of the selectmen's discussion.
The town conducted a privatization study about three years ago and found that in some cases to save money, the town could add a hired subcontractor rather than buy another truck for plowing, Bordeau said.
The contracted plowing would have eased the crunch this past winter if staffing had remained stable, he said.
"In this case, we were down this one person, so it was almost like we didn't feel the full effect of it. It did help a little bit with the overtime because that size truck was bigger than what we have," he said.
The town website lists 89.1 miles of town roads or state highways in Sanbornton that are maintained by the town.
Three years ago, a push to privatize the Public Works Department resulted in a final determination that such a move would not save money, but the town did try privatizing a snow plow route, which opened the door to subcontracting, according to minutes of the Highway Study Committee.
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