North Adams Taking Over Water Plant
The city is taking over the operation of its water treatment plant in hopes of saving $35,000 and resurrecting the long-vacant position of superintendent of public services.
A message from Mayor Richard Alcombright said the city will end its contract with United Water and beginning operating the Reservoir Road facility effective Oct. 1 and hire the plant's current manager, Timothy Lescarbeau, as superintendent of public services. The plant's operation and management has been contracted since its construction in 1992.
"This is one of the largest items in our budget. We took considerable time looking at the numbers to determine whether it's more cost effective to continue to outsource the operation or bring it in-house," said Alcombright in the statement. "We can effectively operate the plant and do it cheaper."
The mayor said he had "lengthy discussions" with the staff, the state and engineering consultants. The idea was also one of those discussed during Finance Committee meetings earlier this year.
The water system plant includes the Mount Williams and Notch Road reservoirs, the Greylock well, watersheds and dams, the treatment plant, three storage tanks, pumps and stations and 80 miles of pipes in North Adams, Clarksburg, Williamstown and Pownal, Vt. The treatment plant produced 601 million gallons of water last year.
The Water Division of the Public Services Department maintains the entire infrastructure with the exception of the plant. United Water has been paid about $285,000 a year to provide staff, chemicals, preventative maintenance, janitorial and office supplies, and other related items. The city is responsible for the cost of utilities and capitol-item replacements.
Alcombright has identified the city's aging infrastructure as a priority. Some pipes in the water system date back a century. Lescarbeau has been charged with doing a complete assessment of the city's infrastructure, developing a five- and 10-year capital improvement plans and reducing costs.
"Our infrastructure is deteriorating. Last year, we had over 20 water breaks and we haven't had any significant pipe replacement in over 10 years. Additionally, our sewer infrastructure still suffers from inflow and infiltration problems, which affects our Hoosac Water Quality District assessments," said the mayor. "As our infrastructure continues to age, reacting to these problems will not solve them — we need to be proactive and begin to develop solutions."
He said taking over the plant will aid in that endeavor. The budget for the plant will allow the hiring of two people for its operation and a superintendent of public services — a position that hasn't been filled in 20 years.
The last superintendent and city engineer was Gene Breda, who retired in 1990. The post has been filled part time by Guy LaBonte, who has been with the city since 1962.
"Guy's institutional knowledge is invaluable and it should be imparted to someone with an engineering background before Mr. LaBonte chooses to retire a second time," said the mayor. "As [retired Highway Superintendent] Leo Senecal did before him, Paul Markland spends the majority of his time keeping things maintained, addressing public concerns and supervising projects — it's a job requiring him, like Leo did, to wear many hats which does not allow time to think long term. Paul hasn't taken a vacation since he started."
Lescarbeau is a city native and holds a civil engineering degree from Rensselaer (N.Y.) Polytechnic Institute. Alcombright said he also has the necessary licensing from the state Department of Environmental Protection, and the required background in managerial and engineering experience. He will be responsible for all infrastructure improvements, with emphasis on the Water Division, and all operations of the Public Services Department, including Water and Sewer, Parks and Recreation, Cemetery, Transfer Station and Engineering.
The duties are consistent with Chapter 7 of the city ordinances; the city's classification plan lists it as S-27 with a starting salary of $62,767 and max of $64,463.
"We are lucky to have someone with this experience who can step in and take on this huge responsibility," said Alcombright. Lescarbeau had applied for Senecal's job last year, he said. Markland, who got the job after also working in the Building Department, will continue as assistant superintendent, overseeing the city yard and field work.