Councilors scrutinize proposed Public Works funding

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From air conditioning units to the purchase of a metal detector and crosswalk striping machine, city councilors questioned the city Public Works Department about items included in the department’s budget, which are part of the city’s proposed $45.7 million spending plan for 2022.

While appropriations for DPW is divided among several different lines of the budget, overall, proposed spending on public works is approximately 17.1% — or $7.8 million — of the city’s proposed spending plan. It includes a host of buildings and grounds, streets, facilities and equipment as well as the cost of the department’s full and part-time staff.

A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13, prior to the Common Council meeting held in Council Chambers at City Hall. In the coming weeks, department heads will meet before the Common Council for work sessions where each section of the proposed budget will be reviewed, with Rome Fire Department and the city Parks and Recreation Department scheduled to appear Oct. 6 and Rome Police Department and city Codes Department scheduled the following week.

Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo’s proposed spending plan calls for a slight increase in spending of $792,000 compared to the current budget, with no increase in the tax rate, as well as no increase in water, refuse and sewer rates.

Public Works Commissioner Butch Conover appeared before the council Wednesday, where he was questioned in Common Council Chambers about specific line items in the city’s public works budget.

The first item discussed was the purchase of four air conditioning wall units that are planned for the Public Safety Building.

“Many there are not working,” said Conover as to the condition of the units.

Third Ward Councilor Kimberly Rogers asked if the purchase could be covered under COVID-related funding because they’re related to “ventilation.”

City Treasurer David Nolan said, “That’s a stretch, but it may work.”

Rogers said, “The argument is that they’re helping air quality,” with such improvements becoming necessary and under consideration during the pandemic.

Conover was then questioned about the inclusion of a Groundhog Burrow Metal Locator as the item was also included in the 2021 budget. The Public Works commissioner explained that a city engineer doesn’t have a detector available and one is needed to detect pins deep in the ground near fencing that borders properties.

This type of metal detector, “can tell us how deep the rod is,” said Conover. The pins, “we can’t just locate with a regular metal locator.” He reiterated that the purchase is not to replace a detector. Cost is $797.

Councilors asked why a Rough Terrain Scissor Lift for an estimated $37,500 was included in the general budget and not in the capital improvements budget. Nolan said it would be foolish for the city to bond for anything under a $50,000 purchase. Conover said the lift would also be used by all departments for several maintenance purposes, including to change out some lighting at the train station. He said the machinery would not be used to change out city street lighting to LED lights.

“No, we couldn’t use it for that,” Conover told Rogers.

While the Public Works garage has a total of nine doors, it’s requesting that two metal overhead doors, as well as three walk-through doors be replaced. Conover said two overhead doors were replaced in the current budget.

Rogers questioned why the cost of the two overhead doors increased from $9,500 “last year” to a proposed cost of $12,500, and Conover said it was due to the increased cost in building materials and the difficulty in obtaining the doors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The department also proposes the replacement purchase of a hot water pressure washer for $2,900 and two LED lights to replace old lights for $5,000.

As for the purchase of a crosswalk striping machine for $12,000, Conover said the department’s current machine is 16-years-old and buying a new one would save money in the long run, “because we keep spending money on repairs, and after a while, it just gets worn,” said the commissioner.

The next item reviewed was the sanitary sewer inspection camera for $12,000. Conover explained that use of the 4-inch camera is necessary for making sure the water department doesn’t damage other pipes, etc., when digging down to repair a water main break. He said hiring a company for use of such a camera could be a cost of up to $200 per hour.

“It’s better to have the camera and know we’ve done it correctly,” Conover said.

In discussing an increase in wages, Fifth Ward Councilor Frank R. Anderson questioned if the increase of more than $160,000 was “typical” due to contractual agreements.

Conover said there was a need to bring the chief operator and assistant chief operator salaries “to what they should have been years ago — they’re up to where the (water) superintendent is and that’s where they should be.” in the proposed budget. The commissioner said they are also adding a position at the water/sewer department in anticipation of Superintendent Anthony Nash’s retirement. Conover said it will be necessary to train someone to eventually take over the water shop and there are currently no employees able to take over water distribution when the time comes.

Under the line item of refuse and garbage, Conover was asked if he still used the Cascades waste disposal software and he made councilors aware it was necessary in tracking down lost and/or missing trash receptacles. Conover requested that the council look at its waste management contract “because we’re spending most of our money replacing parts” on the receptacles when they are thrown and damaged by garbage collectors and that much more of his time then necessary is spent tracking down the owners of lost barrels. Conover said perhaps the city should consider a recyclable bag system like Utica.

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