South Bethany discusses public works

South Bethany’s Bob Washburn (maintenance mechanic) covered his public works wish list, as town council members continued their series of budget workshops.
Washburn’s recommendations reflected a nearly 40 percent increase from last year, to a proposed $462,000 in fiscal 2006 ($70,000 of that in the equipment budget).

“This is a decision you’re going to have to wrestle with, as a council,” Washburn stated.

He recognized the significance of the increases, but anticipated a “bell curve” shape to the public works budget over the next few years, with outlays dropping off once the town dispenses with outstanding storm drain, roadway and landscaping problems.

Washburn and South Bethany’s landscaping contractor spent $32,000 renovating storm drains this year, in a continuing effort to address poor drainage.

Part of the problem, he said, was that when he joined the town three years ago, no one knew where, or how many, drains there were.

He said they’d uncovered old drains, buried under silt, and was putting together a map – which should make maintenance less onerous in the future.

Washburn and crew cleaned out 25 drains, replaced between six and eight (they’re up to 30 years old), repaired others, capped a few that were superfluous and installed four level spreaders (shallow trenches that disperse concentrated runoff).

However, much remains to be done.

“The project should take between two and three years more,” Washburn estimated. “We still have some heavy work to accomplish in town.”

He asked $50,000 to continue the process this year, and expected he would be coming back to ask for the same again next year.

Washburn also floated a proposal regarding in-house landscaping and grass-cutting – estimated cost, $31,500.

Council has outsourced the work for many years, but with mixed results (sporadic cutting, drought-stricken plantings, etc.). As an alternative, Washburn suggested hiring a pair of seasonal workers.

“You’re going to have to absorb some additional costs, and the only way to find out if this will work is to try it for a year or two,” he pointed out.

As with the storm drains, he expected it would take at least that long to bring landscaping around town back into shape.

Washburn said he didn’t intend to hire experts — just solid workers. However, he said he’d been asking for advice at local landscaping companies (regarding what to plant, when to fertilize, etc.), and had received some good advice.

“We’re planning to avail ourselves of the expertise in the community,” he said. “We won’t be doing this in a vacuum.”

Council Member Marge Gassinger commented on some of the new decorative stone beds at canal ends around town, and Washburn said he was trying to move toward lower-maintenance landscaping options.

The town has been putting away $5,000 a year for new vehicle allocation — he asked council to consider cashing that in and buying a new truck ($29,000). According to Washburn, the public work trucks are seven and 16 years old, respectively.

The snowplow on the old truck can’t be retrofitted onto the newer truck, and he said it was getting hard to find parts for that plow. He proposed retiring the old public works vehicle and spending $4,000 for a new plow rig to fit the seven-year-old (also, a $2,000 lawn trailer for the proposed crew).

That brought up a related issue.

“We need somewhere to park the trucks, too — and that situation is only going to get worse when the Town Hall/police station plan comes to fruition,” Washburn pointed out.

He suggested an increase in the building maintenance budget, from $1,500 to $6,000, for a pole barn or something similar, possibly to be located next to the existing public works building.