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Letter: Is Yorktown Moving to De-Consolidate?

The following letter to the editor was submitted and written in its entirety by Susan Siegel, former town supervisor of Yorktown.

From White Plains to Washington, governments at all levels are consolidating departments in order to reduce costs. But Yorktown appears to be going in the opposite direction, de-consolidating two cost saving consolidation plans incorporated into the 2012 budget – even before either plan has had a chance to be implemented, let alone evaluated.

In comparison, in January, 2010, when the prior Town Board voted 4-1 to eliminate the Director of Labor Operations position, it based its decision on two years worth of experience and problems with the position.

Consolidation of building maintenance

Yorktown’s buildings are in a state of disrepair and many of our building systems have had to be replaced prematurely because of lack of proper maintenance.

The problem is twofold: a series of “penny wise, pound foolish” Town Boards that did not appropriate sufficient funds to maintain our buildings properly, but more importantly, the absence of any comprehensive, experienced, professional oversight of our buildings. For too many years, there has been no preventative maintenance planning for our buildings and no systematic short, medium or long term planning for building system upgrades and replacements. For too many years, the responsibility for maintaining our buildings has been in the hands of department heads, none of who had any professional expertise or experience in building systems.

The Police Chief, Town Justices and Library Director all have the professional expertise and experience to manage their respective departments. As department heads, their focus has been ensuring the safety and well being of our residents, dispensing justice in a timely fashion and providing an array of library services, not on how to deal with a police building roof that has been leaking for years, an inoperable air conditioning and heating system in the court and boiler replacement, roof, septic and air conditioning issues in the library. In fact, building maintenance needs are often not even included in annual department budget or capital project requests.

The result: over far too years, there has been weak or non-existent knowledgeable oversight for building maintenance, duplication of effort among multiple maintenance staffs (they each purchase their own cleaning supplies), inefficient utilization of staff (skilled maintenance staff are mopping floors while needed carpentry work isn’t getting done), and a lack of coordination of resources (each department schedules its own maintenance staff).

In the fall of 2011, in a concerted effort to address this long standing problem and halt the further decay of our buildings, the previous Town Board unanimously decided to consolidate the building maintenance function into a single unit within a revitalized Building Department headed by John Winter, the Town’s new Building Inspector, a person with 35 years of professional experience in the building industry.

In three short months, Mr. Winter has put his expertise to work and addressed issues that have gone unaddressed for years. Under his supervision and direction, the source of persistent piping and roof leaks at the YCCC and Town Hall were identified and remediated. He oversaw a major repair of the library’s septic system, resolved the air conditioning/heating problem in the court, prepared bid documents for the asbestos abatement and demolition of the decaying buildings at the Holland Sporting Club, and identified long neglected exterior maintenance needs at the library.

And, he’s been able to do all this while, at the same time, he’s improved the efficiency of the Building Department by speeding up the processing of building permits and inspections and modernizing an antiquated records management system.

But, with consolidation less than three weeks old and new procedures still being worked out, some board members have already started discussing de-consolidation and returning police, court and library maintenance staffs back to their original departments.

Consolidation of managerial oversight

The retirement of the former Superintendent of Environmental Conservation/Central Garage (who by default was also responsible for the maintenance of the YCCC and Town Hall) in December, 2011 enabled the Town to stay within the 2% tax cap levy by reducing payroll costs by $100,000. The consolidation plan, incorporated into the 2012 budget with the unanimous support of the previous board, did not replace the retiring department head but instead gave David Rambo, the current head of the Water Department, who managed a recycling and garbage collection operation in his previous job, a $20,000 stipend for assuming managerial responsibility for both the Environmental Conservation and Central Garage departments. (The board had previously decided to transfer the retiring Superintendent’s building maintenance responsibilities to the Building Department.) Not only did this plan save the Town considerable money, it also more fully utilized the skills of an existing department head who has already proven he can cut costs and save money. The planned consolidation of management oversight also paved the way for the eventual creation of a real DPW.

But some board members are now talking about creating separate department head positions for Environmental Conservation and Central Garage. We’d be going backwards from two to three department heads instead of forwards from two to one.

Consolidation can save considerable taxpayer dollars -- when it’s carefully planned and implemented using qualified professionals with oversight by the Supervisor and Town Board,. Which leads to the question: Why are some board members considering de-consolidation even before the two planned consolidation initiatives have had a chance to be implemented and evaluated?

Before any de-consolidation decisions are made behind closed doors under the guise of “personnel discussions,” taxpayers are entitled to an open discussion of both consolidation plans and an explanation of how and why de-consolidation might be better for the taxpayers in the long run.

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