The Department of Public Works was first up to bat in this year’s budget season. Director Tim Kilhart came before the Finance Committee at its Oct. 24 meeting to discuss his requests, which were mostly for level services. But one request went above and beyond level services—Kilhart is asking for an administrator to work at the DPW building 35 hours per week.
The new employee would process the payroll and invoices, assist with paperwork, and answer phones. Kilhart told the committee the department’s current administrator is shared with the police and fire departments, and she is overwhelmed by the amount of work she has. He said her work for the DPW is just payroll and invoices, and she doesn’t have time to do any more for his department. She works in the Public Safety Building, he said, and “It’s gotten so hectic at the police station for her, with answering phones and people coming into the lobby,” he said.
Kilhart said his paperwork has dramatically increased. He said he applies for (and is awarded) a lot of grants, which require research and a lot of paperwork. In addition, he said, two upcoming projects will take much of his attention—the water main connection to Devens and the Ayer Road renovation project. And, if the town votes to renovate the DPW facility, he said that project would take even more time away from his daily duties.
Finance Director Jared Mullane told the committee that the DPW has the most invoices of any department, one of the largest payrolls to process, and a lot of other miscellaneous paperwork to do. Assistant Town Administrator Marie Sobalvarro said that both she and Town Administrator Tim Bragan were “strongly in favor” of hiring an administrator for the DPW. “We’ve gotten complaints from residents about no one answering the phone,” she said, because Kilhart’s job takes him out of the office frequently to supervise crews or attend meetings.
Committee members questioned whether there was really a need for someone to work 35 hours a week, as Kilhart requested. Kilhart said the payroll and invoices could probably be done in 16 hours, but it would have to be done at the beginning of the week, and no one would be there to answer the phone the other three days. He added that he might be able to share the employee with another department if the timing could be worked out.
Member Bob Thurston asked if the Police Department wanted more time from the current administrator, and Sobalvarro said she would follow up on that. Kilhart said there would be space for an administrator in the DPW office, although that person would have to share a desk with the foreman. If the town votes to approve the project to renovate the DPW in the spring, the new office design would include space for an administrator.
The snow and ice budget has remained at $200,000 since fiscal 2022, but the town spent far more than that in the past two winters. Last winter, removing snow and ice cost the town $450,000. While deficit spending is allowed for the snow and ice budget, Kilhart recommended increasing it each year to keep up with inflation. According to the committee, snow and ice deficit spending uses up a significant portion of the Reserve Fund each year. Although Kilhart’s fiscal 2025 request was still $200,000, when the committee asked for his recommended increase, he said $250,000.
Kilhart is asking for a small increase in the water budget for fiscal 2025. Last year, coliform in town wells forced the town to install a full-time chlorination system. With this type of system, the state requires regular site visits and water tests that can be performed only by an operator with the appropriate license. Kilhart is the only town employee who holds that license, but the state does not allow public works department directors to be the primary operator of a town’s water system. In April, he hired an outside contractor to test the water, and he is requesting an additional $13,000 in his budget for that contractor, bringing his total request to $65,000. The water system is typically paid for by receipts from town water users; in fiscal 2023, water receipts totaled just over $63,000. The town will be connecting to water in Devens in the next few years, but it plans to keep the existing wells as backup, so testing would likely continue.
Transfer Station expenses will likely increase next year as well, according to Kilhart, because the current contracts for hauling and disposal of solid waste and recyclables will expire at the end of this fiscal year. He said the costs in the existing contract are much lower than current market values, but the new costs will not be known until bids come in for the new three-year contract, likely sometime in January. Kilhart estimated an increase of about $35,000 per year. He reminded the committee that sticker, bag, and scrap metal sales have always covered the cost of running the Transfer Station, and he said he anticipates that will continue unless the new contract comes with higher than anticipated costs. Should that no longer be the case, he said, he would ask the town to raise the price of stickers or bags.
This year’s budget request for commons and grounds, which doesn’t include any employee salaries, increased by $1,100. That amount is needed to cover cost increases for supplies, repairs, and electricity, Kilhart said. The committee asked if any budget constraints prevented the DPW from keeping up with field maintenance. He said the weather combined with poor field drainage limits the amount of time his employees can mow, weed-whack, and line-stripe, and that contracting out some of that work would help. He said acquiring additional fields, either grass or turf, would require even more staffing and equipment.