Consolidation of building maintenance departments takes a step forward

Ward 2 Councilor Mayor Ralph J. Figy also serves as the council liaison to the school district. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIED – A resolution consolidating the school district and city building maintenance departments under a common facilities director took a tentative step forward at the April 2 Westfield City Council meeting, which was audio broadcast on Channel 15.
Legislative & Ordinance subcommittee chair William Onyski said the city was essentially looking for one department to oversee all city buildings under an expanded director of facilities position.
School liaison Ralph J. Figy said the idea came to fruition in 2015 when the position of director of facilities was created.

“At the time it was hoped that one department could be created,” Figy said, adding that another advantage is to bring skilled tradesmen in the school department to the city. He said the first step in the three-step process is for the Council and the School Committee to approve the resolution to create one department.
For its part, the School Committee approved the resolution at a Special Meeting on March 16. Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski said at the time that the School Department and Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr. are interested in creating a Department of Facilities to oversee all functions of building maintenance, including finance, personnel and maintenance, trade workers and custodial services. The move is intended to share resources and efficiencies, and to create a three to five-year capital plan for all city buildings.
Many questions arose during the discussion of the resolution at the City Council.
“We all thought this was a good idea when we created the job to begin with,” said At-large Councilor Dave Flaherty. He said his concern is that the School Committee can pull out of the non-binding agreement any time they want.
“The other things is the money,” Flaherty added. He said the district gets a lot of money to maintain its schools, and the city should pull the money and the ability to choose the projects from the district.
Figy agreed that the School Committee can pull out of this whenever they want. “Likewise, the City Council can pull out of it. Most councilors I know of complain about the maintenance of our buildings,” Figy said, adding that the idea started under Mayor Daniel Knapik, continued under Mayor Brian Sullivan, and now has the support of Mayor Humason. “All three agreed this is the way forward,” he said.
Figy said the Council only had to agree on the principle of the idea. The next step would be an ordinance, and then a revised job description for the director of facilities.
City Council President Brent B. Bean, II asked if grounds are part of the discussion. “The last couple of years, the ball has been dropped regarding fields,” he said. Figy said that had not come up as a point in the discussion, but nothing has been finalized.
Ward 1 Councilor Nicholas J. Morganelli Jr. asked whether any surrounding communities used the same model. Figy said in the town of Agawam its maintenance department including school custodians are under the DPW. “There is precedence,” Figy said.
Ward 4 Councilor Michael Burns asked whether supervisors would change. Figy said that Bryan Forrette is currently the facilities director for the city and would have to reapply if the change goes through. He said personnel directors on both sides have been very active in the discussion.
He said there were three possible votes; on the resolution, the job description, and the ordinance. “It’s up to the council as to what we do, whether to move forward or move it to L&O.”
Bean asked about the timeline, and Figy responded, “It is the hope of this mayor to have it in this year’s budget. As much as possible, I would like to get done tonight.”
Also raised was the pension liability in the move.
“I’m ok with a first reading on the resolution. Pensions everywhere are underfunded, and that’s before this crazy stock market. I’m fine doing this if money moves to city side. We do have to consider long-term consequences. There are a lot of questions on the table that deserve the appropriate amount of investigation,” Flaherty said.
A unanimous roll call vote was then taken on the resolution. Onyski made a motion to move for a second reading and final passage at the June 17 Council meeting.
Flaherty asked whether an L&O meeting could be scheduled before then to answer some of the questions. Figy recommended a committee meeting of the whole, which he said is the way he will be running Finance subcommittee meetings during the budget process. Onyski agreed to schedule a joint meeting prior to the June 17 council meeting. The vote on the revised job description was tabled to the next meeting.

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