November 21, 2012WAKEFIELD — The long-awaited report on the eight-month study of town operations by Municipal Resources Inc. (MRI) was presented to selectmen, town employees and residents at the beginning of the Nov. 14 Wakefield Board of Selectmen meeting.
On Dec. 28 last year the board voted unanimously to carry over $30,000 for a study of the town by MRI and on Jan. 11 Don Jutton, President of MRI and former Wakefield Town Administrator, discussed the scope of MRI's review of town operations. Beginning in February MRI visited town departments, surveyed town employees and residents and compared its findings with those of six Maine and New Hampshire towns of similar size.
Jutton returned to give the "preliminary presentation" of MRI's findings, to be finalized once feedback is received from town officials. With him were Don Bliss, former Salem fire chief and New Hampshire State Fire Marshall, to discuss Fire-Rescue Operations; Alan Gould, former Salem police chief and former Rye Town Administrator, to discuss police operations; and Rod Bartlett, currently Director of Public Works in Peternborough, to discuss the Highway, Sewer and Transfer Station departments.
Bliss thanked Fire Chief Todd Nason and themembers of his department for their cooperation. "Overall this is a very good fire department with incredibly dedicated career and on call volunteers." The issues with the department are "manageable." They are:
1) The need to look at long-term retention and recruitment of part time members of the department. "If you can't keep part time members, you will have to go all pro," he added.
He recommended establishing a Firefighters Explorer post that will get students involved with the department at an early age.
2) Enhance oversight and supervision in the department to motivate younger staff and clarify the command structure.
3) Improve relations between the full time and part time (on call) forces.
Other recommendations include:
- Address the space issue between the police and fire departments in the main station. Make use of the second floor space and consider installing a fire sprinkler system.
- The two substations have only one or two members who live nearby: beefing up the on call force should start there.
- Replace one old engine and tanker with one larger new tanker.
- Shorten the ambulance replacement cycle to five years.
- There is no need for an aerial ladder.
- Need to revise and update operating procedures.
- Attitudes and morale are improving: regular meetings will help.
Selectman Peter Kasprzyk asked whether the department should focus on expanding personnel in the Union substation and asked whether residents got an insurance benefit from having the station there.
Bliss replied that the issue in a spreadout community like Wakefield is response time, which having the station improves. With no town water available in Union the effect on insurance rates is probably small, he said.
Gould began by saying the Wakefield Police Department is "in good shape operationally." He identified some keey issues:
1) While the facility is in great shape, more space is needed for police. There were some safety issues, which Chief Ken Fifield quickly addressed.
2) Radio transmission quality is poor. Selectman Chiar Ken Paul commented that the Sheriff's Department has added a repeater, which has helped.
3) Laptop stands in cruisers not well suited to doing work for any length of time.
4) Evidence room access should be limited to two people and room contents should be audited twice a year.
5) Consider transferring dispatch duties to the Sheriff's Department. Current dispatch covers only 40 hours.
6) The department is "right on the cusp with staffing." Lacking a detective means that each officer has a case load. One more patrol officer should be added. Also a third sergeant should be added, promoted from the ranks.
7) Standard operating procedures should be reviewed, with key procedures reviewed annually. Receipt of changes in policy or procedure should be acknowledged in writing.
8) Wakefield's compensation is in the bottom third of the market: the town should look at that.
9) Morale is low. It can be improved through better communication, less micro-managing.
10) Department members "excel at community engagement." They are in active contact with the community.
11) The lobby at the police station is too large and the kitchen is accessible to walk-ins. Lobby size should be reduced and reconfigured.
12) Rakes and other tools should be stored outside, not in the sally port.
Selectman Charlie Edwards pointed out that this department does not have high risk arrests: they are taken to the Sheriff's Department.
Bartlett commented that the employees he spoke with clearly desire to do a good job.
1) The sewer department is in good shape, with a well-organized employee. The town should look to the future and deal with the fact that the septage pools are under-utilized.
2) The solid waste facility is clean, which is always a good sign, and the employees there are well-motivated. They also do maintenance on their own equipment.
3) The highway department employees are older. The town should look to the future and consider consolidating sewer, solid waste and highway under one administrator and sharing equipment and maintenance.
4) A Snow Plan should be put in place. A good plan makes clear when roads are plowed and how often.
5) Access to the sand and salt pile by residents and contractors should be controlled for safety reasons. Visibility is limited. It may make sense to relocate the public pile.
6) There should be a capital reserve plan for all equipment. Some pieces of equipment are very expensive, so replacing them should be planned for well in advance.
7) Road maintenance should pay attention to drainage. Cracks should be sealed promptly and chip sealing every five years will help roads last longer.
Overall, Bartlett said he recommends looking at making the three smaller departments into one department.
He also recommends looking at acquiring the water system and adding it to the other three. "One supervisor will improve efficiency," he concluded.
Kasprzyk asked about issues with the Highway Department garage. Bartlett said it tends to get cluttered, thus multiplying trip hazards. Jutton said there is a problem heating with wood: employees should not be splitting wood for the furnace. Kasprzyk replied that splitting the wood (gathered from roadsides) was not supposed to be full time: a backup oil system kicks on if the furnace goes out.
Jutton commented that "If in New Hampshire there is such a thing as being too frugal, you have worked it out." The highway department focus should be on clearing brush and keeping culverts open. There also needs to be more emphasis on organization and planning ahead.
Barlett recommended the UNH Technology Transfer Center as a source for help with organization.
Edwards asked what Bartlett thought about doing bus maintenance at the highway department.
Barlett said he has been a Public Works Director for 26 years and never worked on a bus. His view was that a highway department should never run out of work to do with the road.
Kasprzyk commented that when he visited the highway department there were only three employees; there are now five, including a mechanic. He said the plan is to do oil and tire changes only. Bartlett responded that the town should compare the cost of doing in house and outside using what he called "honest numbers."
Gould said that it is pretty common to have public works employees do oil and transmission changes on police vehicles.
Jutton pointed out that the MRI report provides comparative information and said "You do a lot with few people and do very little wrong."
He observed that Town Hall is run very efficiently, but finace should be relocated from the open space to a quiet area to help it focus and allow privacy. "Finance is more efficient without interruptions."
While the Town Clerk and Tax Collector work well, the town may want to consider making the Tax Collector an appointed position because if a Tax Collector is uncooperative and incompetent, "you can have bad consequences."
He observed that Wakefield is one a few communities with elected assessors. There is no definition of competence for that position and the town may want to make a future change. The Board of Selectmen typically is the board of assessors in most towns
A Geographc Information System could make a big difference in town and the assessing clerk should be the point person in implementing it. It could be used for police and fire as well as planning and assessing.
The combined Building Inspector/Code Enforcement position seems to be working well, though there is no a lot of commercial development in town.
In Welfare "you are doing everything less expensively than every town except Lebann, Maine."
In conclusion Jutton said, "You have a real community here with people who work together. You are really blessed. You have a healthy tax base with lots of waterfront properties: it's solid.
"Don't be penny wise and pound foolish." There is a tendency to be "too frugal."
"Taxpayers are in good hands," Bliss added.
Jutton said a major concern is with the water department. He urged selectmen to sit down with the water company and discuss the town taking it over.
His second priority is dealing with public works planning. The last study of town roads is 10 years old and should be updated.
Jutton asked that the report be shared with department heads and returned to MRI to be finalized in 10 days.