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.