Highway Department Downsize
The rumor mill is buzzing, but I'm not sure it is providing accurate information. I was not able to attend last week’s meetings specific to the downsizing of the highway department, but here is what I know from the Select Board meetings I have been attending regularly.
Heath has had some serious financial hits lately, some expected such as the broadband notes coming due, and some unexpected, such as a significant increase in the Mohawk School assessment (which is now over $1,000,000). These developments have required the Selectboard to make some very hard fiscal decisions.
BACKGROUND: The Finance Committee was charged with looking at ways to save money. The Highway Department was a clear place to look as it is our biggest expense after the school assessment. To this end Will Emmet and Alice Wozniak contacted highway departments in Leyden, Colrain, Hawley, Charlemont, Bernardston, Warwick, and Sunderland. Their research was very detailed, including highway department budget, number of employees, miles of road broken down by paved versus dirt, and cost per mile of road maintained. Based on the data gathered the Finance Committee recommended to the Select Board that the town downsize the department. This was discussed with the Select Board in detail with great concern and reluctance to take such a step.
RATIONALE: Dohn Sherman's retirement left a void in mechanical skills needed by the highway department for equipment maintenance and repair. Anticipating filling this void the Selectboard updated the position description of Mechanic/Operator in June of 2022. The town then advertised for a Mechanic/Operator. There were three respondees, including Kyle Jarvis. Neither of the other two town employees expressed an interest in the position. When identifying a position to be eliminated, the logical choice was between the two employees in the less skilled Laborer/Operator position, Jason Lively and Mike Shattuck. Since Jason had more seniority, Mike Shattuck’s position was eliminated.
NOTE: Since Robyn has a personal relationship with Kyle Jarvis, she recused herself from both the hiring vote and the downsizing decision, trusting Brian and Sue to act in the best interest of the town, as I have seen them do in the years I have been attending these meetings.
This is not the end of the process. Heath continues to have serious financial problems. Other cost savings ideas have been discussed at recent Select Board meetings, some of which may take effect this next fiscal year.
If you see something on the agenda that is important to you, please come to that Select Board meeting to hear the deliberation around the topic. That is the best source of information rather than rumor or incomplete information.
4/17/2023 06:02:37 pm
I would like to respectfully address the following… when you said
4/17/2023 08:04:29 pm
4/18/2023 09:41:16 am
Thank you for the kind response. It just seems in the past few years it's a constant struggle between BOS and the town which it just shouldn't be. I hope to join more meetings and help bring the town back to basics as it's so clearly struggling financially trying to balance the current desires. As a small town, we should not be battling with each other and also we should not be living outside our means. Even IF we are spending more on our highway dept than other towns, wouldn't it be smart to look at other budget lines before cutting something that is so vital?
4/19/2023 08:37:22 pm
4/24/2023 10:18:04 am
4/26/2023 05:24:44 pm
4/17/2023 06:15:21 pm
I concur with the views expressed in the "Heath Highway Department Downsizing" explanation.
5/6/2023 04:55:41 am
I find it iterating that any would could make a stat that at any time of the year, (mud season in this case) that the Highway department would not have enough to do during they day. Having spent 20 years working for the highway department that had never been the case. Perhaps things have changed. If the comments I provided via email and my letter seem to be not factual then please read the approved minutes of the select board meetings. Those written words are indeed facts. An opinion what the board intended is just that, an opinion. I attended select board meeting for 20+ years and never before in my lifetime of living in Heath have I seen such division in town. The way things are now is not how things have always been. There have been several actions taken by the select board that although legal are not the right thing to do. Cutting a 15 year veteran over an employee with only 8 months on the job is simply wrong. We will never agree on the process used to reach this decision and I’m not trying to con you otherwise. Well, maybe I am actually. I simply can’t reconcile in my mind how this was done and I never will. It’s not personal, it’s professionalism. In this case there has been a painful lack of it.
5/9/2023 09:12:14 am
I'm glad to hear from someone else who thinks the town is divided (well, not really "glad"). I haven't been here as long as you but I've been involved with "Hilltown government" for a while and what's happening here is not normal. I hope someday we can find some common ground for the sake of the town and its community. As a select board, I'd hope they aim for that as part of their professional goals. At times it's clearly a thankless job and you can't please everyone, but when will we realize that the direction we've been going in hasn't improved our situation and the division keeps growing? I'm in no way saying everything is falling apart and all decisions have been wrong, but there's clearly a common path we've been on that's not working.
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