Petitioner: Let’s elect the DPW director
Increases in budget, salary are cited
WILTON — Increases to the Public Works budget, capital expenses and department director wages were the motivating forces behind a petition article to make the Director of Public Works an elected position, instead of an appointed one, according to a statement from the petition’s author, Tom Schultz.
The town originally had an elected the Highway Agent until 1979, when a petition article was submitted to allow the position to be appointed by the Select Board. According to the 1980 Wilton town report, the article passed by voice vote after much discussion in which some argued against losing the choice of road agent, while petitions argued that appointing the position would give the road agent job security.
According to a written statement provided by Schultz, he proposed the article because of rising costs in the Public Works Department, particularly in the 10 years since the appointment of the town’s current road agent, Steve Elliott.
Elliott has been the town’s director of public works since 2003. Public Works encompasses multiple departments, including the Highway Department, road resurfacing, the Recycling Center, Parks and Recreation Department and care of the local cemeteries. The Public Works Department is also responsible for maintenance work on town buildings and the sewer and water systems. In 2005, the actual expenses of the Public Works Department as reported in the 2005 Wilton town report were $496,900, with an additional capital expense outlay of $74,200. In 2013, the actual expenses were $786,500, with additional capital expense outlay of $143,500. And the budget request for 2014 is $926,400, with a request of $212,700 for capital expense.
“This represents a 99.4 percent increase in budget since the appointment of the current director of the public works department,” wrote Schultz.
Elliott argued that his department is no different than any others in town. He noted that in the last 10 years, the police budget increased 87 percent, Fire Department by 72 percent, Town Hall 71 percent, and Water Commission 94 percent, according to town reports. Elliott’s Highway Department Budget has only increased 10 percent in those 10 years, he argued. The biggest increase has been resurfacing, which has increased 184 percent in that time. That’s due to Wilton starting a long-term program to repave the roads. The Select Board and Budget Committee set a base budget for that, which has been increased only for rising cost in materials and contracted services, said Elliott.
Another point of concern for Schultz is the salary increases for Elliott. Elliott’s salary is currently $66,000, with a request in the 2014 Wilton budget to increase it by $2,500 in compensation for supervising the Recycling Center, which Elliott took on two years ago. If approved, that would represent more than $23,000 in wage increases over the course of 10 years for Elliott, who started the position in 2004 at $45,300.
Elliott said he has never received more than a 3 percent raise a year, and at times has forgone a raise in order to disperse the funds among his men.
During a recent meeting of the Select Board on Feb. 3, the board voted not to recommend Schultz’s petition article. Mainly, they noted, the article did not provide any of the qualifications needed to fulfill the position, such as licenses to operate heavy equipment or the town’s Recycling Center.
In his statement, Schultz noted that the town elects multiple officials, including the town clerk, sewer and water commissioners, moderator, treasurer, as well as planning board and budget committee members.
“Many of these positions require specific knowledge, skills, certifications, licenses and/or other requirements. None of these elected positions have any requirements for election beyond being a resident of the town of Wilton. In turn, our current director of public works is a resident of the town and, as such, would be eligible for election to the position,” wrote Schultz.
Schultz, a member of the Water and Sewer Commissions, and Elliott have butted heads before, noted Select Board Chair Dan Donovan at the Feb. 3 Select Board meeting. During that meeting, Elliott asked the board to consider an article, which would bring the Water Commission under the purview of the town, similarly to how the Sewer Commission functions. The board declined, as the Water Commission was chartered by the state, and it would take a vote of state Legislature to disband it — though the board agreed to look at the process to see what efficiencies could be found by bringing the commission under the town.
Elliott and Schultz will be facing off at the polls this year for the open position on the Sewer Commission. Elliott has also filed for the open Water Commission position against incumbent Frank Edelblut.
Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.