By Mary Macedo, Neighb News Correspondent
At its meeting on Wednesday, 5/13 the Fairhaven Board of Public Works discussed town employees returning to a regular work schedule, possible budget cuts, and the recycling center hours. The board also discussed an upcoming town meeting article for the new automatic water meter reading system, as well as the Finance Committee’s role in picking town roads to be fixed. At the start of the meeting board member Frank Coelho announced that would be taping it.
The board met with BPW employee Victor Oliveira via Zoom. Public Works Superintendent Vinnie Furtado explained that Mr. Oliveira was asking to carry over a day and half of his vacation time to next year due to the COVID-19 schedule disruptions. Mr. Oliveira’s yearly work anniversary is coming up and he will lose any vacation time he has not used if the board does not approve the carryover.
Mr. Oliveira explained that normally he would use that day and half of vacation time for Easter, but due to COVID-19 he did not use it. He said his work anniversary is next week and he did not want to lose his vacation time.
The board members all agreed that there was no problem with the request, and voted unanimously to approve it.
In another matter Mr. Furtado addressed other challenges due to COVID-19. He told the board that other boards and committees have decided to designate one member of each board or committee to sign bills during the pandemic restrictions. He said the board has not had any issues with the current way they have been signing bills, but he just wanted to bring it up as an option.
Board member Robert “Hoppy’ Hobson said that he thought the whole board should see the bills. Chairperson Brian Wotton agreed and said that as long as there is no issue they should just keep it the way it is.
In another matter Mr. Furtado announced that some town employees will be going back to working their regular schedule starting Monday 5/18. He said all employees will be wearing masks and trying to social distance while working.
During the last few weeks, some departments had been working in groups, with one group home on alternating weeks. That way, if one crew got sick and had to quarantine, the other group would be able to work.
The board specifically spoke about the Highway Department returning to work on 5/18. Mr. Wotton asked if the employees would be wearing masks while working outside if they are able to be six feet away from each other.
Mr. Furtado said that he thought the governor said that you must wear a mask in public.
Mr. Wotton said that the governor said you must wear a mask in public if you cannot be socially distant.
Mr. Furtado said the employees will do whatever the governor’s orders are.
Mr. Wotton said if they are six feet apart outside then no mask will be necessary but if they are inside a building they should be wearing masks.
Mr. Furtado said that they will be keeping the same employees in the same trucks every day, as well as providing masks, hand sanitizer, and sanitizing wipes.He said he was not sure how they will integrate the staff together and gather them all on Monday in the safest way.
Mr. Coelho suggested gathering them all outside. He explained that the Police Department gathered outside for a graduation ceremony and everyone stood six feet apart.
Mr. Wotton suggested having all employees start at 8 a.m. and then have Group A meet first and have Group B go sanitize their trucks and then have the groups switch. Mr. Wotton said that way the groups avoid contact with each other.
Mr. Furtado said that they will also be staggering punch-out times etc.
Mr. Coelho asked if there will be temperature checks for employees.
Mr. Furtado explained that they are prepared for that, and have bought the thermometer. If the Board of Health tells them they need to check temperatures they will. He also said that it has been two months since all the employees have worked and they want to get back to work safely.
In another matter Mr. Furtado asked if the board wanted to discuss the recycling center hours now that town employees would be working full time.
Mr. Wotton asked Mr. Hobson if he wanted to discuss the recycling center,
Mr. Hobson said that they can wait until the next meeting and just keep the hours they way they are for now.
Mr. Wotton said he thought Mr. Hobson would want to open the recycling center more days now. He said he did not want to pass up the discussion if Mr. Hobson wanted to open the recycling center more days.
Mr. Hobson explained that opening the recycling center for the summer hours changes it to be open five days a week, but the recycling center would only be open until noon. Residents like the recycling center’s current schedule with three days a week open until 3 p.m., he said.
The board will discuss it at the next meeting.
Mr. Furtado also told the board that he would be asking for more money for the new automatic water meter reading system at the next town meeting.
They originally were going to get a drive-by meter reading system and already have the $1.5 million for it, but prices have recently gone down for the system. Mr. Furtado said that instead they want to go with a better automatic reading system and replace all meters instead which will cost no more than $3.3 million total.
Mr. Furtado said the town’s current meters have slowed down and are not reading accurately. The new system would save the town money in the long run.
Mr. Coelho said that just replacing the meters will save the town $137,000, and the new system would pay for itself in a few years.
During the conversation the board received a call via Zoom from resident Karen Vilandry. She asked if the new water meters would be smart meters. She said smart meters can emit radiation which can be harmful to people. If the town is getting smart meters, she asked if will they put protective cages around them to prevent radiation exposure.
Mr. Furtado said that first he needs to get approved for the money to get the new system. If he is able to get the money then they will go to bidding to get the equipment which is when they would discuss what type of meters they would be getting.
Mr. Hobson said they would be getting the same system as New Bedford which makes it approved and safe.
Mr. Furtado said that they will talk to other communities and make sure because they do not want to make anyone sick. He said he was glad Ms. Vilandry brought it up because it is information they can use. Board member Keith Silvia said that during the bidding process they can require that the package include the cage.
Mr. Wotton thanked Ms. Vilandry for calling in and making the board aware of an important issue.
Mr. Furtado said he will bring his proposal for more money to town meeting. He told the board that the town will be trying to conduct a virtual town meeting on June 27th and they might be limiting the number of articles. He said he hoped that he can get the article on the June TM warrant, but it might get pushed to the fall.
Mr. Wotton asked how they will be doing the town meeting virtually.
Mr. Furtado said he is not sure and he is worried that 200 people are going to be talking over one another.
The board voted unanimously to accept the article.
Mr. Furtado also asked the board to talk about road work again and his meeting with the Finance Committee..
At the previous BPW meeting Mr. Furtado explained to the board that the FinCom wanted to look at the roads before approving money for the roadwork, and the board questioned that the FinCom wanted to do that.
Mr. Furtado said, that he meant no disrespect to the Finance Committee, but he just thought it was odd. He noted that a lot goes into selecting roads, such as resident petitions, engineering studies, and the payment management study.
Mr. Silvia said that the Finance Committee said that they just like to see where the roads are.
In another matter Mr. Furtado said that the Town Administrator, Mark Rees has told all town departments to come up with a list of items that could possibly be cut from the budget in case they do not have enough money due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Mr. Furtado said that with the pandemic going on maybe they can afford to cut some summer help.
Mr. Silvia, Mr. Coelho, and Mr. Wotton all said that Mr. Rees should stop creating job positions instead of cutting from departments.
Mr. Wotton said the town needs to stop throwing money around. He said they just gave a 5% salary raise to some employees but now they want a 5% cut. He said he does not want to cut services such as employees cutting grass, lifeguards, bug spraying, and parking attendants.
Mr. Silvia said that residents are still paying taxes and the town is going to take away services.
Mr. Wotton said that they should find alternative things to cut. He said he will not cut services or summer help under his watch, and he thinks the board will back him up.
Mr. Furtado said they will discuss the cuts more at the next meeting.
In another matter Mr. Hobson said he has received a few calls from residents saying that there are signs saying that they are not able to park their cars or get out of their cars at the Seaview boat ramp.
Harbormaster Timothy Cox called in via Zoom and said that residents are allowed to park at the boat ramps and they can get out and walk around as long as they are socially distant.
Mr. Cox said the signs on the boat ramp just give information about being safe and socially distant.
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