Pelham - Windham News
June 4, 2010 - 7
Selectmen Go With Alternate Proposal for Restructuring
by Barbara O’Brien
By a slim margin, Windham Selectmen decided to go with an alternate proposal for restructuring the town’s fledgling Economic Development Department. It was approximately a year ago that the former Planning and
Development Department, headed up for many years by Alfred Turner, was renamed the Economic Development Department and Laura Scott got the nod as its first director. One of the first tasks handed to Scott last year was to come up with a proposed restructuring plan for the former planning and development department. When she did come back to selectmen with her proposal this past April, however, the majority of selectmen were not totally pleased with some of the suggestions. As a result, selectmen asked her to come back to them with more information, as well as an alternate proposal. Scott presented her most recent findings during the Board’s meeting on May 24. Among the information requested by selectmen was a financial analysis, a listing of measurable goals for each staff position, and an alternative proposal for staff, beyond what she had proposed two months ago. “I have made an effort to provide the information requested in a comprehensive manner,” Scott said. “Over the past year, I made a concerted effort to analyze the current department structure, while maintaining status quo. I also think having at least one year to observe the department functions and needs was necessary before I made any recommendations for changes,” she said.
Referring back to the meeting that took place this past April, Scott said, “It seemed, perhaps, that there may have been a misunderstanding as to how the department currently operates, which then carried over into how it would operate under the proposed structure.” Scott then went on to explain in more detail how the department currently functions, as well as why she was proposing changes in staff positions and hours worked. Under Scott’s proposal, the current position of part-time building inspector would be eliminated and those duties absorbed by the full-time building inspector. “Building permit activity, past and anticipated, cannot justify this position,” she said. Roger Prebel, who is currently Windham’s part-time building inspector, said he agrees with abolishing the job. Prebel also said he would be willing to fill in for the full-time building inspector when that individual needs time off. The existing full-time department secretarial position would be reduced to part-time (20 hours per week) under Scott’s preferred plan. “The level of activity in the administrative duties does not justify a full-time position, nor will it in the next two to five years,” Scott told selectmen. Prebel disagreed, however, with cutting the hours for the secretary. “The job can’t be done in less than full- time,” he said. Former selectman Andy Dufour said he always felt that “the
town treated its employees fairly,” and was therefore concerned about reducing the hours of an employee who has served the community extremely well for more than two decades. “I don’t feel it’s compassionate to eliminate the full-time secretarial position of a long-time dedicated employee,” Dufour said. On the remaining portions of the proposal, however, Dufour said, “I feel you should follow the recommendations of the person hired to manage the department.”
Selectman Ross McLeod said he preferred to keep the secretarial slot at 40 hours for the time being or until the current employee chooses to retire. “These are people we’re talking about; not just job titles,” McLeod said. The secretary could take on additional duties, McLeod said, and suggested she receive training for public assistance with ZBA issues. Virginia Gray, who has held the job of planning department secretary for nearly a quarter of a century, said she also worked as ZBA secretary for 12 years and feels that she is very competent to assist the public with similar issues at this point in time. “I’ve been acquiring on-the-job knowledge for years,” she added. Gray said she would consider having her hours reduced to 32 per week, but not to 30. “I shouldn’t be losing my benefits after 22 years,” she told selectmen. “It’s a good office with a good staff. It works very well as-is,” she said. Under Scott’s preferred proposal, the current position of community planner/code enforcement officer would be changed to simply “community planner.” Scott said this would allow the person holding the job to focus primarily on the review and processing of planning board applications, as well as assistance to planning board applicants. “The implementation of the town’s Master Plan and other community planning documents/studies would become more of a priority,” Scott said. The revised job of community planner would allow greater emphasis on proactive community planning, regulation re-writes, ordinance updates, and application/fee modifications, she added. The proposal being supported by Scott calls for the creation of a new full-time position dubbed “Code Enforcement/ZBA
Administrator.” “This would allow for more focused and timely attention to code complaints and required follow-up, which can be time-consuming and lengthy,” Scott said. “Often, code issues become ZBA issues and vice-versa, so having one staff person who is knowledgeable with both is very helpful and can streamline the process,” she added.
Under the proposed staffing structure, which eliminates the part- time building inspector and reduces the hours for the department secretary, and establishes a full-time code enforcement/ZBA administrator, there would be an initial cost savings of $6,988, with an anticipated cost increase of $5,038 after a period of four years. Per the Board’s request, Scott also formulated what she termed “an alternative scenario.” “I will note, that as department head, this is not my preferred choice and I feel that there will still be unmet needs in the department under this option.” “It is better than what exists now, however,” she admitted to selectmen. Under the alternate proposal, which includes a cost savings of $8,374 initially and an anticipated increase of only $273 after four years, the job of department secretary would be reduced from the current 40 hours per week to 32 hours per week, but would allow the person holding the job to retain health insurance benefits. The alternate proposal still recommends the elimination of the part-time building inspector position, but includes hiring a part-time code enforcement officer at 30 hours per week. Selectman McLeod said he is in favor of creating the job of code enforcement officer. “The town has grown, the job has grown in complexity,” he said. “There will be even more growth with the expansion of [Route] 93. This is a chance to get ahead of the curve.” “I was asked if the department would be able to function if the
changes I am proposing were not implemented, and the answer is yes,” Scott said. “However, this proposal being made is one which I feel, as department head, will best serve the needs of the community in an efficient, effective, and responsible manner, while still carrying out a multitude of tasks and serving the various boards, committees, customers, and residents.” “Being a department that is pro-active and not just re-active, that can carry out the goals of the strategic plan, can implement the Master Plan, and can spend the time and energy necessary to look at the larger community development picture is what the residents of Windham have said they want and is what they deserve,” Scott concluded.
Although selectmen did not heed Scott’s advice on going with her initial proposal, they did decide, by a vote of 3 to 2, to go with her “alternate proposal.” Voting in favor of using the alternate re-structuring plan were Chairman Charles McMahon, Vice Chairman Bruce Breton, and Roger Hohenberger. Galen Stearns and Ross McLeod voted against the alternative proposal. Under the alternate proposal, the community development department will continue to be a re-active entity, Scott warned.
continued to page 12 - Selectmen Go With Alternate
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