New town administrator gets first task
New Town Administrator Bruce Keiser’s first assignment from the Town Council Tuesday is to tackle a negotiations job with the state Department of Transportation. He said he is ready for the task and has a good relationship with DOT officials.
The situation involves the DOT’s intention to complete a long-standing plan to pave the village portion of Narragansett Avenue, which is a state road, this year, even if it is before the town completes its water-main installation work there. Such a schedule would mean the road would have to be paved a second time within a few months.
Public Works Director Steven Goslee underscored the problem when he reported Tuesday, Jan. 17, that bids for the water-main work are all over budget, and he will have to revise the plan to reflect the costs. Goslee said that he intended to rebid the project immediately, limiting it to Narragansett Avenue only and deleting for now work that was to be done on Howland Avenue and High Street. The rebid could be done in three weeks, and the town could still plan to install the pipe this summer, Goslee said.
Goslee was concerned that the DOT would proceed with its paving, which would mean that the street would be torn up twice within a few months. There might also be a conflict between the town and state with timetables for replacing curbing and sidewalks in the downtown area between East Ferry and Grinnell Street.
The state budgeted funds for the work some years ago, but the town wanted to do the water-main work in conjunction with that project.
Goslee said some work deleted from the contract could be done by his public works crew.
Councilman William Kelly asked if the work could be done if the town’s two backhoes, both down for repairs, were operable. Even when functioning,those machines are too small to do much of the pipe installation, Goslee said. Kelly has been voicing much support for major spending in next year’s budget to repair or replace all town equipment. The equipment maintenance has long been given a low priority, he noted.
Earlier this month, Kelly asked that the subject be on the Jan. 23 agenda, but other councilors wanted to discuss the matter at their Feb. 13 meeting. They wanted to give Keiser more time to gather data and be prepared to take part more effectively in discussions.
Keiser expressed confidence that he can effectively negotiate with the DOT about paving the Eastern portion of Narragansett Avenue. “It makes no sense. It would be money down the drain,” he noted.
Goslee pointed out that there might be a logistical problem of the same contractors competing for both the town and state contracts simultaneously.
The town had received six bids, the lowest almost double the budgeted $860,000 for the threeneighborhood contract, the public works director reported. He said high asphalt prices as well as such extras as curb resetting were driving up the bids. They ranged from nearly $1.6 million to almost $2 million.
Voters approved more than $6 million in bonding to pay for water-main work, a second water tower on Howland Avenue, and a new water treatment plant on North Main Road. A review of all projects with engineering and financial consultants and the state health department led to the recommendation to rebid the project, Goslee said.
The councilors agreed to reject the bids, modify the plans, and seek new bids as soon as possible.
Other tasks The councilors also asked Keiser to contact utility officials to help evaluate the effectiveness of the town’s cost-containment efforts to save on electricity.
Goslee assured them that the pumping stations, about which Councilman Michael Schnack led a discussion, had “ultra-high-efficiency motors.”
Goslee also accepted responsibility for removing an outbuilding once used as the Red Cross supply closet at the Southwest Avenue Town Offices. He said his crew literally would “put it in the dumpster.”
Overseeing the development of an animal shelter at the nearby garage at the same site, Councilor Barbara Szepatowski offered the assistance of a volunteer who is a contractor to help. The outbuilding will be replaced with a storage facility for the recreation department.
New Town Administrator Keiser will be given a formal welcome at the Jan. 23 meeting of the Town Council, Council President David Long said Tuesday.
Councilor Kelly expressed concern that a formal introduction of Keiser was not made at Tuesday’s meeting, with officials plunging into agenda matters directly. Most councilors had stopped by the Town Offices to greet Keiser earlier in the day.
Long said Tuesday’s session, mainly for sewer and water business, drew only two residents. A “proper introduction” would be made at the next meeting when more residents are expected, he said.
Councilors noted that Keiser had showed up Monday, a holiday, to begin work, in addition to the “homework” he has been doing since his appointment in late December.
Some banter occurred before everyone got back to business.
Kelly praised Keiser for “jumping right in.”
Keiser quipped, “Only fools jump in.”
Kelly dismissed that remark and said that Keiser’s quick start
makes me sure we’ve made the right choice.” There were murmurs of agreement from other council members.
Keiser credited Police Chief Thomas Tighe, who was interim administrator until Keiser took over, with “making me feel at home” during his first day on the job.
The council president said to Keiser, “You get two weeks (with Tighe’s help). . .”
“Then he (Tighe) gets his gun back,” Councilman Schnack interjected.