Hooksett voters support town engineer, police contract
HOOKSETT – Should the greater electorate side with the roughly four dozen registered voters who attended Hooksett's Deliberative Session yesterday, the town plans to hire an engineer at a cost of $91,884 annually.
Article 7, which proposed the added position, including benefits, drew the most discussion of the 16 municipal requests, by far. In fact, 15 of those articles advanced to the town ballot without amendment.
The lone modification came in the wording of Article 12, which requests support for a seven-year lease purchase agreement for a $248,400 public works department excavator. The discussion to strike the words "rubber tire" in front of "excavator," for clarification purposes, brought levity to a meeting that was otherwise routine.
There was minimal conversation on the $16,681,262 proposed operating budget, which represents a $6.73 tax rate and a 3.73-percent increase. And there was little talk about a request to remove $180,000 from the Solid Waste Disposal Special Revenue Fund to purchase a 14-yard automated collection truck for the recycling and transfer department. But the aforementioned engineer position generated significant dialogue among those in attendance.
Councilor Donald Winterton explained to the small crowd that Hooksett currently outsources its engineering work by collecting money from developers and paying it to outside engineering firms. He said the article is likely to save the town, and taxpayers by association.
"While we have to, by law, say that it will have an added tax impact since we can't anticipate what developers will bring before us ... my prediction is this will be a self-funding position and, in fact, will likely be a revenue source for the town," said Winterton. "In addition, if we have an engineer on staff, there are other (municipal) projects that this engineer can do other than work with developers."
Town Administrator Dean Shankle said the town is currently charging developers more than $100 an hour for engineering services at an average of 34 hours a week. He said he's hoping to reduce that fee to $80 an hour, which he said is still likely to leave a surplus for the municipal government and leave additional hours for the full-time engineer to work on town projects.
"One of the advantages to having an in-house engineer is, as things do start picking up, we'll have somebody to coordinate (economic development) efforts ... this will increase the level of service we can provide to the people we're trying to attract without costing us any money," said Shankle.
Councilor Susan Lovas Orr was one of three councilors to vote against the article.
"I understand the value of watching the budget and see it's fairly obvious, from a bottom line standpoint, that we save money by hiring an engineer," she said. "My concern was the value to having an outside voice. To have all opinions coming from within the town could potentially create some issues down the road ... I like the value of having outside opinions with a wide-range of expertise."
Her board mate, David Ross said he was concerned because hiring a town engineer is a longterm commitment, not just a one-year financial promise.
Still, Hooksett resident Richard Boisvert, a local developer, stood at the microphone and related some less-than-positive experiences working with Hooksett and outside engineering firms that have proven both costly and frustrating.
"I wholeheartedly agree this is something the town should do," he said. "It would be great to have somebody on staff you can call and ask questions ... somebody to be there to make sure everything is in order. That's the job of the engineer you have (in-house)."
Frank Kotowski, a member of the Hooksett Planning Board and Sewer Commission said he's been listening to for years to similar frustrations from developers. He agreed the town would be remiss to forgo hiring an in-house engineer.
"As the cost of butter, eggs and cheese increases, so does the cost of building," he said. "I really believe this is one of the better warrant articles we have going forward."
Though there was some concern with the pay being too low to attract a qualified engineer, Shankle said he and other town employees have been in contact with nearby communities and noted they collectively believe $56,000, plus benefits, is a fair starting pay. He also said the $91,884 is projected at a full annual salary, including benefits.
Though Hooksett Police sought a multi-year deal, Winterton explained the advantage to a one-year agreement is that it places the Police Union, Firefighters Union and Public Works Union all on the same cycle, which he said may be advantageous while negotiating insurance rates for town employees.
In addition, Winterton said the one-year deal removes a clause that allows for raises on the anniversary date of each officer, and instead aligns pay increases to July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year, when all the other town employees receive annual financial bumps.
The contract represents a 2-percent increase over the current deal and a 3-cent increase per $1,000 assessed valuation for taxpayers, or $7.50 per on a $250,000 home.
Capital reserve requests
Several articles added money to capital reserve funds including $100,000 for town building maintenance and $100,000 for public works vehicles at a 6-cent per $1,000 assessed valuation, of $15 for each article on a $250,000 home. Other capital reserve allocations advancing to the ballot include requests for $50,000 for fire apparatus; $50,000 for drainage upgrade; $30,000 for future revaluation; $20,000 for air pack and bottles; $20,000 for automated collection equipment; and $15,000 for parks and recreation facilities.
Residents have the opportunity to vote on all 16 articles, including the election of town officials and zoning amendments, on Election Day, Tuesday, May 13, from 6 a.m. to 7 p..m. at David R. Cawley Middle School.