The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 26, 2010

City has fewer workers, but more upkeep

City councilman knocks criticism by consultant

By Diane Petryk
The Daily Item

SUNBURY — With half the number of employees as in past years, the city's Department of Public Works struggles to maintain roads, street signs, traffic signals and drainage basin covers.

Seasonally, the workers mow grass, plow snow and maintain ball fields, playgrounds and parks that once were the responsibility of a parks and recreation staff that, for the most part, no longer exists.

They are seven full-time and three part-time men, where once they were 20.

They are under the supervision of city Councilman Kevin Troup, who says he's proud of them.

"They do amazing work," Troup said Friday.

After studying the department, however, a municipal consulting firm cited inefficiencies and organizational issues.

Keystone Municipal Services Inc., of Morton, which was paid $80,000 to study every city department, faulted the Department of Public Works for failure to plan.

Although praising the skill and motivation of its workers, Keystone consultant Robert Sabatini said the department needs to prioritize and schedule funded projects.

He also advised getting the skilled workers off the lawn mowers.

They should be focused on infrastructure projects, Sabatini wrote.

Troup disdains the entire study.

"He didn't have anything positive to say about the entire city of Sunbury," he said. "I take it with a grain of salt."

And Mayor David Persing dismissed the consultant's idea that they subcontract all grass mowing and seasonal maintenance.

"We'd like to hire more, but it's impossible," he said. "Normally, we'd have the less salaried people mowing grass, but it has to be done. Sometimes, the top guy has to do menial work."

Persing said he doesn't want the city emulating the state Department of Transportation, where bosses stand around, not allowed to touch a shovel. There's too much work and too few people.

Today, the department consists of Supervisor Michael Bordner, who earns $44,313 a year; two mechanics, Randall Napp, $29,328, and Terry Lawrence, $29,224; four laborers, Kenneth Long, $31,096, Jeffrey Kunkel, $29,016, James Zerbe Jr., $29,016, and Michael Long, $20,800; and three part-time laborers, John Wiggs, at $9.10 an hour, John Wertz, $8.40, and John Brosious, $8.25.

"Back when," there also were seven to 10 parks and recreation workers, Persing said.

"That's mostly down to one guy now," he said, "but there's a minimum service we have to give the people."

Among pothole counters, it will never be enough. To others, the department is doing a great job.

In either case, it could be better, said Councilman Joe Bartello III.

In April, Bartello cast the lone vote against buying a $32,000 dump truck for the department.

It was paid for from the city's liquid fuels tax allocation. Troup said Friday that money can only be used for equipment.

Not true, Bartello says. One thing the money can be spent on is construction of salt shed facilities — one thing the city's public works department needs.

Sabatini said the city's salt building is deteriorating and should be closed and demolished.

"This building is subject to structural collapse," he wrote.

Troup is more sanguine about the shed.

"It's not going to fall down tomorrow," he said.

He estimated it would cost about $35,000 for a replacement. Bordner said Friday he thought about $100,000 would be needed.

Other buildings at the department's 420 S. 10th St. compound have issues as well. As Sabatini sees it:

"The 'warehouse' is in an extremely menacing condition with respect to (a) employee entry, (b) adjacent residences, (c) the significant external power services and (d) stored items. … Building wiring and structural conditions are highly deteriorated."

The garage, repair and storage structure is crowded, and the second-floor storage area items are outdated and unnecessary, he said.

He recommended building an economical utility structure for the department's varied needs.

Also, he suggested increasing security with a sensor-controlled gate, lighting upgrades with movement sensors and a monitored alarm system.

"Reading over the report," Bartello said, "a brand new truck to use a few times a year when it snows, if it snows, is the least of the department's issues. Right now, the department spends entirely too much time on grass cutting and very little time working on the deteriorating roads in the city."

Troup, on the other hand, said the department is in "dire need" of more vehicles.

Among its equipment are four large dump trucks and two smaller ones, a backhoe, front-end loader, snowblower truck, two pickup trucks, a cherry picker truck, large mower, four riding mowers and a street sweeper.

The two pickups were obtained within the last three years, as was the street sweeper, which cost $163,000.

There are 36 miles of streets to maintain, Troup said.

Moreover, he said, the department needs a few more people.

"We're going to have to keep up with the riverfront project," he said. "Not only maintaining it, but everything else is going to take off when it's finished."

"There will be more people in the parks, going to the ball fields and the pool. It's going to be a draw for people, and we need to be ready for it.