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Compliance officer job cut at town hall

January 21, 2010
WAKEFIELD — Selectmen laid off the town's zoning and shoreline compliance officer during a nonpublic session last week.

Town Administrator Robin Frost said the move to eliminate John Ciardi's part-time job was made because the budget committee had reduced the proposed budget for the code enforcement department from $112,000 to $75,000. The layoff comes about week before the town deliberative session, which is an opportunity for residents to amend the proposed town budget and warrant articles. The deliberative session is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. at the Opera House.

"We needed to save money right away," said Frost, who added the layoff would save about $22,000.

The position has existed for over seven years. Originally, the job was 32 hours per week. Later it was reduced to 25 hours. Even before the massive cuts from the budget committee, selectmen were going to reduce it again to 20 hours, said Frost.

The shoreline compliance function of Ciardi's job was not required by state law and didn't include enforcement capabilities, which are handled by the state's Department of Environmental Services. The shoreline compliance officer's duty was to help residents get answers to their questions and to offer solutions on resolving conflicts.

Ciardi said he's been successful at educating people about what they can and cannot do with their waterfront property. His other duties included signing off on construction permits, dealing with zoning issues, and filling in for code enforcement officer Arthur Capello. Ciardi's job included being the town's deputy code enforcement officer.

Over the last three years on the job, Ciardi said he was able to resolve 273 complaints, some of which go back 15 years. Many complaints were about people doing work without a permit. But, he said in light of the downturn in construction there were grounds for reducing the code enforcement and planning departments' budgets. The planning department's budget was cut by about $30,000.

Ciardi declined to comment on what he'd do if voters added back the money at deliberative session. However, he said he would discuss his position on the issue if it comes up at the meeting.

Shoreline protection is taken seriously in Wakefield because the town has seven lakes and much if not most of its property tax base comes from waterfront residents.

But Ciardi says it's a "misnomer" that the lakes are put in jeopardy by the people who live along their shores. Very few people are doing things that would be disastrous to the lakes, he said.

"Nobody cares about the waterfront more than we do," said Ciardi who is a waterfront resident himself.

On Tuesday, Acton-Wakefield Watersheds Alliance Executive Director Linda Schier reacted to the news of the layoff by saying she hoped the town would stay committed to reducing the amount of pollution that ends up in the lakes due to man made activities.

"If water quality decreases so do property values," she said.

Budget Committee member David Mankus was the one who came up with the $75,000 figure. He said he still supported the cut, but he had no comment about selectmen's decision to lay off Ciardi. It's not the budget committee's place to discuss who's let go. But Mankus said as a local builder he frequents the code enforcement department and can attest that the employees do a "wonderful job."

The cut was made to bring the code enforcement department's expenses more in line with its revenues, from permits and such. Last year, the code enforcement department required $50,000 from taxpayers. This year, the department would have needed about the same amount if the cuts weren't made and revenues stayed flat. With the cuts, the department now only needs $10,000 from the budget assuming revenues are consistent with last year.

"We did what we thought was right," said Mankus on Tuesday.

Despite the lay off, Ciardi indicated he would remain interested in town affairs—noting he 's been in construction for 45 years, and during that time he's helped run some large companies.

"I've got a lot of experience and I'd hate to see it all go to waste," he said.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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