Public Works director cites work load
Editor's note: The wage information has been updated to correct the story originally published.
By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
SANBORNTON — Residents speculating about the reasons for so many municipal vacancies are citing the seeming disparities in compensation, micromanagement by the selectmen, and poor budget oversight.
Brian Bordeau, the outgoing director of Public Works, will discuss his reasons for leaving in an exit interview on Sept. 27, but in the meantime, the selectmen’s demands on him, coupled with salary adjustments for some employees and not others, are being seen as major contributors to his decision.
Bordeau’s resignation will become effective at the end of the month, and selectmen invited him to state his concerns about the department before leaving. While he has the option of doing so in a private session, Bordeau said he has no problem talking about it in open session.
In submitting his resignation on Aug. 31, Bordeau said he will be leaving the town because of the heavy workload associated with his salaried position.
“I don’t enjoy plowing snow and putting in 40-something hours in a row like I did when I was 28,” Bordeau said. “I’ve been in this position for four years, and people ought to walk in my shoes for a while.”
Town officials say Bourdeau’s sentiment is a common one since the town of 2,981 residents voted to change the position from an elected highway superintendent to an appointed director of Public Works. The new position, they said, calls for a working manager, and each person who has held the position has struggled to handle the commitment.
Observers dispute that assertion, saying it is the selectmen who make the job untenable.
“I’m not surprised he resigned, because the selectmen have put him under a heck of a burden,” said Roger Grey, a former Budget Committee member.
Grey said the Public Works Department has had two unfilled positions, and the selectmen are asking the director to do their jobs as well as his own. “He’s a salaried employee, but he’s working for hours he’s not paid for. I’m surprised he didn’t [quit] earlier.”
Town Administrator Katie Ambrose said there were two vacancies for truck driver/equipment operator for the majority of the year, but the town recently filled one of those positions. The town also is looking to replace both the full-time transfer station manager, who is moving away, and the part-time transfer station attendant. Until those positions are filled, she said, it may impact staffing on highway operations.
Bordeau told the selectmen that people don’t appreciate how hard it is to juggle all of the duties required of his position. “It’s not just plowing snow,” he said, “it’s the road process, it’s the ditching and the tree-tying, it’s everything. I don’t need that kind of work at this point.”
In giving a full month’s notice, Bordeau said he will be able to follow through on some important road projects, such as the Lower Bay Road work that is half-completed.
He also is advocating to have Perley Hill Road shimmed and overlaid.
“If you do nothing with Perley Hill Road, you are going to lose that road in a couple of years,” he said.
While he will be leaving ahead of the budget-setting process, Bordeau said he would be recommending about the same level of spending next year, but he would like to see the town purchase new trucks. The department recently purchased a new truck, but Bordeau said the other two trucks are operating way beyond their useful life.
“You will spend as much on repairs as you would pay on a new truck,” he said.
Bordeau also recommended raises for the transfer station personnel.
“You’re not paying those guys enough,” Bordeau said. “It’s a zoo down there on Saturday.”
The town also is advertising to fill the positions of deputy health officer, zoning administrator, and deputy treasurer, as well as seeking full- and part-time police officers.
In a recent letter to the editor, resident Bill Whalen raised a complaint about the town’s implementation of a new wage scale. Selectmen granted pay increases to nine employees, and Whalen wrote, “I wonder if the other town employees were disappointed not getting any salary adjustments also at this time?”
He also pointed out that the selectmen had taken the action without first holding a public hearing.
Ambrose said the raises were included in the recommendations from a comprehensive wage classification study that the town has been working on. Earlier this year, the report concluded that Sanbornton’s wages were below those of similarly sized towns in the region.
“Selectmen right now are addressing placing all employees on the pay matrix they adopted in 2016,” Ambrose said.
She said the selectmen had tried to address police staff vacancies by restructuring the police department.
“The restructuring was aimed at maintaining the staffing that the department currently had and attracting a certified officer (which would be more cost-effective than hiring an officer that needed training and certification),” she said.
As part of the restructuring on June 21, the selectmen increased the police chief’s salary from $63,678 to $67,288; the police lieutenant’s wage from $26.12/hour to $28.78/hour; the police sergeant’s wage from $24.88/hour to $26.90/hour; and a uniformed officer’s wage from $18.93/hour to $19.40/hour.
Selectmen adjusted eight other positions on July 19, using money saved from vacant positions.
The fire chief, who was making $60,500, received an additional $1,983.20 to bring his annual wage to $62,483.20.
The operations manager, who works beneath the DPW director, received $977.60, bringing the annual wage of $41,433.60 to $42,411.20.
The summer day camp director received $437, increasing the annual wage from $22,807 to $23,244.
The town clerk/tax collector received $1,197, increasing the annual wage from $45,000 to $46,197.
The deputy town clerk/tax collector received $2,617.16, increasing the annual wage from $28,628.60 to $31,245.76.
The welfare officer received $5,526, increasing the annual wage from $20,500 to $26,026.
The health officer, who works on an hourly basis with no fixed hours, received a $.26 increase, for a new rate of $20.26 per hour.
Whalen expressed concern about the long-term impact of those increases. Selectmen were able to fund the raises from department vacancies, but those wages will have to be included in future budgets.
No problem, said Grey. As a budget committee member, he had been overruled in his opposition to a decision to work with the selectmen to present a single budget to the voters in March, rather than offering a separate budget recommendation.
“The Budget Committee is not doing its job,” Grey said. “They’re just rubber stamps for the selectmen’s budget.”
Taking responsibility for the number of 7-1 votes during last year’s budget development, Grey said he had objected to there being no discussion on the budget items. He said, while statutes allow a budget committee to obtain any information it needs, members weren’t even allowed to speak with department heads without first getting the selectmen’s permission.
“The selectmen are not managing the budget properly, and the Budget Committee should be looking into that,” Grey said.
As to Bordeau’s resignation, Grey said, “I was at the selectmen’s meeting when they told him to get behind the plow last fall. In my view, I think the selectmen treated him very shabbily. I’m a business owner and I know when someone is not being treated fairly.”
Former selectman Evelyn Auger, who now serves as chairman of the Sanbornton Planning Board, said something similar occurred with former town planner Robert Ward.
“Bob Ward was far better than a small town deserved,” Auger said.
While the Planning Board has statutory authority to oversee the town planner position, Auger said the selectmen were giving him orders that contrasted with what the Planning Board was asking of him.
“When we asked him to put together a list of everything we had for commerce in the town, as outlined in the economic development section of the Master Plan, they found fault, saying it was a waste of money and town time, and they were very threatening about it,” Auger said. “I brought out the RSA that says they were not his boss, that he worked for the Planning Board, and they ignored that.”
She said Ward, who worked 26 hours a week in Sanbornton, was trying to serve two masters and ultimately decided he should get another job.
“They would say the planner left because he makes more money over there [in Moultonborough], but he did not leave to make more money. They drove out the planner, and left us with a budget for only five to seven hours a week. We aren’t going to have the time or energy to do any economic development with that kind of budget.”