Budget transfers questioned by City Councilors

Marlborough – Budget Transfers and Capital requests from the Department of Public Works (DPW) led to a lively discussion during the Nov. 23 Finance Committee meeting. Although the committee did ultimately approve the requests, concerns were voiced by councilors.

Generating discussion was the request of $100,000 from the Stabilization account for the purchase of 580 Radio Read Water meters. Ron LaFreniere, DPW Commissioner, explained that the city is currently out of replacement water meters. Needing a supply of water meters on hand to replace broken meters he recommended that the city continue with the purchase the Radio Read Water Meters which off er the latest digital and wireless capabilities.

The city currently has 10,000 meters of which 3,500 have already been converted leaving 6,500 meters still in need of replacing. Making reference to a past initiative to replace the meters in the city with the more technologically advanced equipment, LaFreniere said they should continue with this product because it is more efficient.

“It is a big investment, but it could correspond to a reduction in manpower,” LaFreniere said.

Looking for a definitive plan of how much money could be saved, Ward 1 Councilor Joseph Delano said he would support this purchase but would not support any future purchases until there is a system in place.

“We are trying to be more efficient , Delan o said. “We should have a general idea how much we are saving.”

The new meters offer wireless capabilities allowing meters to be read on a driveby basis, and also have the capability to detect anomalies in water bills, alerting the DPW that a potential problem may exist.

“The new system will detect issues (such as leaks) before or while they are happening,” LaFreniere said.

Ward 4 Councilor Peter Juaire reminded the committee that they moved to the system several years ago to find a more reliable and efficien t syste m afte r receiving several complaints from their constituents.

“We went to this system because of the problems we had with the other system,” Juaire said. “We need to start modernizing our equipment and bringing the city into the 21st century.”

In other financial news, Delano issued a firm opposition to three budget transfer requests for interim foremen. LaFreniere explained that when a foreman is out due to medical, vacation or disability, the senior equipment operator steps into the position of interim foreman and assumes increased responsibilities and compensation for the job.

Delano questioned the move, asking LaFreniere if the employee is working longer hours as a result of being placed in the supervisory role. Delano recommended pursuing other options, including rolling the foremanless employees into another crew.

LaFrieniere said less work would actually get done if that happened, pointing out if a job only requires three or four guys and you add another crew of three or four guys, workers will be standing around.

Ward 7 Councilor Donald Landers, who supported the transfer, warned the council about over-managing departments.

“If you have ever managed a department before you know that you need people in place,” Landers said. “When you start fooling around with a department it does not work correctly.”

With previous experience as head of city departments Landers said that when he was an acting principal and superintendent he was paid for it because he was taking on a lot more responsibility.

Requesting a suspension of the rules, the City Council voted to approve the budget transfers despite the no votes of Delano, At -Large Councilor Patricia Pope and Ward 3 Councilor Scott Shaff er.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” Finance Committee Chair Michael Ossing said. “He is managing money in his own account. He is not asking the city for more money. Like in your own house, budget money goes up and down.”

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