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Wakefield selectmen discuss plowing and equipment needs

by Thomas Beeler
Editor of The Granite State News

WAKEFIELD SELECTMEN inspected the rusted frame of the plow truck now being repaired at the Highway Department garage last Wednesday, July 18. Shown here are (l-r): Selectman Peter Kasprzyk, resident Steve Brown, Road Agent Fred Clough, and Selectman Charlie Edwards. Selectman Chair Ken Paul is in the background. (Thomas Beeler photo) (click for larger version)
July 26, 2012
WAKEFIELD — Wakefield selectmen held their first afternoon meeting last Wednesday, July 18. One purpose of the extra meeting is to focus on a single area, and the focus this time was on highway equipment needs and how best to meet those needs.

Road Agent Fred Clough came to Town Hall to meet with selectmen. That meeting was followed by a visit to the Wakefield Highway Department garage.

Clough had sent a wish list in advance to Town Administrator Teresa Williams, who provided it to the selectmen.

Selectman Chair Ken Paul led the discussion, starting with the question of how much equipment is used. "Is it better to rent equipment when needed rather than owning it?" he asked.

He also brought up the issue of staffing. The highway department used to have five employees and it is now down to three. He suggested that it might make sense to contract out specific snow plowing routes, for example, rather than buying equipment and then having to hire additional staff to operate it.

He made it clear that his questions were for discussion only while the town awaits the report on town operations from Municipal Resources, Inc. (MRI), now expected in mid-August.

Selectman Peter Kasprzyk said some concern has been expressed about the quality of work performed by outside contractors. He noted that the school board is still working the question of whether or not to lease out the school buses. If the decision is not to lease out, the school is willing to absorb part of having another person at the highway department a diesel mechanic who can also drive. Kasprzyk said he was looking at the state job site and it looked like a diesel mechanic got $45,000 a year. He added that he was in favor of privatizing, "but if we can hire someone who can do multiple things, wouldn't it be better?" One example of other tasks would be mowing the ball fields.

Paul responded that contractors can be held responsible for the quality of their work. He added that two or three private contractors already plow the state roads in town.

Selectman Charlie Edwards asked Clough what he thought of the idea of using private contractors for some routes.

Clough said that he thought the town could do the plowing more efficiently: each truck is now assigned 10-15 miles of road to plow. He said he thought the town had "gotten behind the eight ball" with the big plow truck his department is now trying to fix. He said he would worry about getting a reliable contractor. He said the state pays $75 an hour for a driver and a big truck.

Edwards noted that when he was growing up the town had more part time help. "What happened?" he asked.

Clough answered that not as many people are needed to operate equipment now. He went on to report that the plow truck with the rusted frame is now being repaired during free time. "It should be ready by the time snow flies," he said.

Clough then offered the thought that the town should plan to work on the frames of the other two big trucks, raising the funds in a warrant article. That way the town could get another five years out of each of them. He noted that the Kenworth is a 2000 model. "It would give us time to save for a new truck."

Paul returned to the issue of plowing and suggested assigning a contractor to the north end of town: that would save the department driving 13 miles to start plowing.

Kasprzyk proposed parking a truck up at the East Wakefield fire station to save the travel time.

Clough said the department used to do that with smaller trucks, "but that was when sand was available in Ossipee. We went to bigger trucks to carry more sand. A truck with 14 yards of sand does one route."

Edwards struck a note of caution about privatizing: "Maybe we should do this in baby steps, like doing only East Wakefield to start." He said the town should set strict guidelines on the equipment to be used to make sure the service is reliable.

Williams said she was concerned about moving ahead with privatizing if MRI does not submit its report by the end of August. The current budget may not cover the cost.

Kasprzyk suggested having MRI come in before the full report is done, perhaps in three or four weeks, and just talk about highway department issues. He said he liked the idea of having contractors clear the roads initially, to be followed later by town trucks pushing the snow back.

Garage visit

The board then moved the meeting to the highway department garage, where Clough presented the truck being repaired, which had its sand hopper removed to allow access to the rusted frame.

Clough also displayed a Terex backhoe borrowed from the state Department of Transportation garage next door. It is similar to the one he would like to acquire. The vehicle was parked next to the town's large excavator, which Clough feels has limited use in road maintenance.

Edwards gave his opinion that backhoes were not being used much anymore.

The group discussed how much any one piece of equipment is actually used and again whether it made more sense to rent something when it was needed rather than buy the equipment and then have to store and maintain it.

Kasprzyk gave his view that selectmen should consider any equipment acquired as being for the use of any department that needed it. This led to another discussion of using the backhoe at the transfer station on the days when the station is not open. That idea would have to be discussed with Transfer Station Manager Warren Winn. Paul suggested that a visit to the transfer station could be part of the next afternoon meeting.

Selectmen also took a look at the salt shed, which has been proposed for replacement. It was suggested that some consideration should be given to repairing the existing building and adding shed extensions instead.

The next meeting of the Wakefield Board of Selectmen was scheduled for the regular time on Wednesday, July 25 at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall meeting room.

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