LACONIA — A request for a third mechanic who would work across city departments to maintain the 99 inspectable vehicles owned by the city got a sharply negative response from Ward 3 City Councilman Henry Lipman at Monday night's work session on the proposed 2014-2015 Public Works Department budget.
Paul Moynihan, the city's Public Works director, said that the ratio of inspectable vehicles to mechanics in other New Hampshire cities ranges from 26 to 40 to one, but is nearly 50 to 1 in Laconia.
He said that he currently has to utilize other department employees to keep up with the workload, requiring an extra 15 to 20 hours a week in the summer and 30 to 35 hours during the winter.
But Lipman, pointing out that the city had just spent $700,000 on new vehicles which should require less maintenance, said he wasn't convinced there was a need and said that the city should instead get rid of some of its old equipment, including a grader and a sweeper.
City Manager Scott Myers said little work was being done on the grader and sweeper and that they were not a drain on the city's resources.
Moynihan invited Lipman and other council members to visit the Public Works Department to talk with mechanics and the general foreman about the maintenance load which includes all of the city's departments and is funded through the city's Internal Service Fund.
Ward 5 City Councilman Bob Hamel said that he had a concern about city departments in the past having bought different vehicles than the council had approved for funding, including a pickup truck instead of a dump truck, and said that the council had never been informed of those changes. He asked that in the future the council be notified of any such changes.
He also said that work had been done on an old Bombardier snowmobile and questioned the benefit of that work. ''I thought we were trying to get rid of 1960s stuff.''
Lipman said ''we're not ready to add more resources until we see it tighten up'' and said he couldn't understand why some of the older equipment was still being used by the city. ''We were told there was a health hazard and carbon monoxide problems when we were asked to replace equipment. You don't go around the back door and continue to use it,'' said Lipman, prompting Moynihan to protest ''I don't agree with where that discussion went.''
Lipman said he was still not comfortable with Moynihan's explanation, which led Mayor Ed Engler to ask where the supporting narrative was for the budget request for the additional mechanic, a position which would be funded at $20,900 for 26 weeks in the 2014 fiscal year.
Myers said there was no narrative but one would be provided to provide the basis for future discussion.
Moynihan said that at one time there had been two mechanics and a part-timer and that the position had been lost through a clerical misunderstanding between himself and the city administration several years ago.
In other DPW budget matters:
— The winter maintenance budget of $330,000 is in the red by about $40,000 and will be covered with money from the winter maintenance stabilization account, which totals $95,000.
— A capital improvement project at the Winnipesaukee River Basin Program which saw a $5 million ultraviolet disinfection system added has increased the city's share of the debt service by $235,000.
Moynihan said that the program has developed a capital improvement program that will attempt to maintain the debt at a consistent level. The next major project will be a $1.3 million flow metering project which will impact the share of capital and operating expenses paid by each community. Laconia currently pays 49 percent of the operating costs and 41 percent of the capital costs.
A pump station control data system which is being installed for $90,000 will enable remote monitoring on the city's 17 sewer pump stations which will enable remote monitoring of the stations, reducing overtime.