Rockingham cuts public works director's job

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BELLOWS FALLS — Determined to deliver a no-increase tax rate at March Town Meeting, a majority of the Rockingham Select Board voted Tuesday night to eliminate the public works director's position and save $119,000.

On a close 3-2 vote, the board nixed the job currently held by Everett Hammond, who was re-hired in July 2018, several years after Rockingham eliminated the job he held 10 years ago.

With the elimination of $120,000 from the $6.2 million proposed budget, the proposed tax rate will be half a cent lower than the current tax rate, according to Rockingham Finance Director Shannon Burbela. The $119,500 figure represented Hammond's salary and his benefits.

The $6.2 million budget will require $5 million to be raised by taxes.

Select Board member Ben Masure, who works on the highway crew for the town of Westminster, said he researched other area towns that do not have a public works director."It's not a necessary position," he said.

Also voting to eliminate the position were Select Board member Gaetano Putignano and Stefan Golec.

Voting to keep the position in the budget were Chairman Peter Golec and Select Board member Susan Hammond, Everett Hammond's sister.

Susan Hammond, who attended the meeting via telephone, said she felt the position, which was reinstated two years ago, has the support of townspeople. She said she is afraid the town will again get behind on roads and public

works projects.

"Leave it as it is," she said.

Masure and Putignano said they don't see a need for Hammond's position and his engineering expertise, and said the town doesn't have any major public works or road projects slated for the new fiscal year.

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Town Manager Wendy Harrison urged the board to keep Hammond's position filled, noting that all the work Hammond does would just get redistributed to other employees, making them less efficient.

Harrison said that Hammond, who is a licensed civil engineer, actually saved the town money.

Harrison said Hammond's salary is about $60 an hour, and hiring private engineers to do the required work "would cost more than it would save."

She said hiring a private engineering firm costs between $100 to $130 an hour, and in the years that Hammond didn't work for the town, it spent about $106,000 a year on engineering services.

Harrison originally proposed a budget which would have resulted in a nine-cent increase in the town tax rate, which the Select Board rejected. But by Tuesday night, Harrison and her staff, and the select board, had made enough cuts so that the town budget only required a 2.1 cent increase. Last year, the town tax rate went down slightly more than half a cent, 0.64 cents.

Harrison said the proposed increase represents a $5 increase per quarter for a $100,000 assessed home.

But Masure and Putignano said that wasn't good enough.

When Harrison suggested keeping Hammond's position, but reducing the budget by $120,000, the majority of the board balked and Masure made the motion to eliminate the public works director's position.

While he was silent Tuesday night, Highway Foreman Mike Hindes spoke in support of Hammond and the position at an earlier meeting, saying that before Hammond came back to his old job, many town projects never got done. Everett Hammond, who was also at the meeting to discuss various projects, also didn't comment Tuesday.

In addition to eliminating the public works job, the board made minor cuts in a handful of categories, including the maintenance budget at the recycling center and maintenance for the Rockingham Meeting House, which is a town-owned historic site.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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