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WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE or WHY DON’T THE NUMBERS ADD UP?

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By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, “SNOWMAGEDDON OUR ASS,” JAN. 27, 2015) —  Ward 4 councilor Chris Connell continues to make news of the good kind, unlike, say, certain former councilors who just can’t seem to stay out of the big muddy.

Connell has urged a referendum on the building of a new high school, and, as we saw yesterday, wants to introduce a petition inviting the mayor to rescind his Administrative Order on public works, which passed by default.

In another action, he has led the drive into exploring how best to handle the water department in Pittsfield. Should the city keep it in house or should it privatize?

What’s the purpose of the probe? Here’s what our Right Honorable Good Friend said:

“I asked for a study group to be formed to review the pros and cons of keeping the water department and waste water department in house. I believe it’s a conversation that should take place at least every 5 years given the ever changing restrictions that the EPA imposes on all municipalities. The cost to municipalities seems to increase dramatically every time the EPA tightens their regulations.

CHRIS CONNELL: Water panel owes it to taxpayers to find out why the numbers aren’t adding up.

“I realize that two studies were completed in the ’80s and ’90s but things have changed. In addition to the tighter restrictions,  costs such as postemployment benefits have become more of a challenge to municipalities. The results may show we stay in house or not. Many individuals would like to know including myself what is in the best interest of the city. By the way this study is not costing the city anything, no consulting fee just a group of volunteers.”

OPEB Factor and No Cost Make Inquiry a Welcome One

There is much to like here. First, any review of operations is welcome. In fact, every city department should be subject to such an internal examination. Whether such probes can be honest given the warped politics of the city is a separate question. We are speaking in the abstract, a theoretical state imposed by experience. Second, THE PLANET l-o-v-e-s that a public official is revealing an awareness of the OPEB problem (“Other Post-Employment Benefits,” an unfunded liability of hundreds of millions of dollars hung on taxpayers by a succession of mayors, councilors, school committee members, school superintendents, and municipal unions). Third, the volunteer commission bears out what we have long said, that far too often, the city ignores its “in-house” talent and jobs out studies of this sort. The reason? To guarantee that the city gets the answers that it wants to hear.

Almost never are municipal “studies,” especially those jobbed out to consultants, done with an objective purpose. Typically, they are meant to “legitimize” a preconceived “finding.” Consultants are only too happy to take the money and present in a fancy package the preordained gospel city officials want to hear. THE PLANET urges the members of this volunteer commission to do their job and look at the question of privatizing with objectivity. Let the information and the data determine the result.

The commission consists of former Pittsfield public works chief Bill Forestell, OCD director Douglas Clark, Bob Meyers, and Bill Sturgeon. THE PLANET can personally vouch for Forestell and Sturgeon. Again, strictly from our own personal experience, the jury is out on Clark and Myers. But going in and unless we learn otherwise, we are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

What, or rather “Who” is Missing from the Water Panel?

Notably missing from this panel are the co-designers and builders of the city’s two water facilities (Cleveland and Ashley). We speak, of course, of “Water Wizard” Craig Gaetani and Dr. Lawrence K. Wang. To study water and not include these two is missing out on a ready, world-class resource. Each man is widely acknowledged in the industry, and yet, despite each man residing regionally, the city seems hell bent to keep them from any deliberations on water and sewer operations. Why? It’s an intriguing question.

Notwithstanding this omission, THE PLANET nonetheless commends the water study panel. It is generally good to question the efficiency of city departments. The better question in this case, however, is “Why is the city asking this question?” It’s not every day that the city is willing to undergo a self-examiniation. Our experience tells us that there’s something someone is not telling us. We decided to poke around a bit.

Talking to a number of knowledgable sources, one theme emerges: Under public works commissioner Bruce Collingwood, so the theme runs, the city “has let the department get away from its control.” Under the previous administration, the water and sewer department was rocked by a corruption scandal. This time, it appears the department has grown fat, lazy, and incompetent. Is that so? The panel must find out.

Gaetani says when the Cleveland and Ashley plants were built, the technology, which is still current today (sand float), was designed so that the plant could run with just 25% of staffing that’s typically required of such a facility. Gaetani says and Connell confirms that the water department and the seweage facility on Holmes Road employ 44 people at a cost of $4.3 million (18 employees for water, 26 for sewer).

Gaetani says the water department could be run with two or three employees: One each for water and sewer, with a third as a “utility infielder.” Automation and technology permit that, and, in fact, the plants were designed to operate at that staffing level. When problems arise, resources can be brought in on an as-needed basis. Thus, if this is true, the city is employing 18 people to do the job that three could do. With similar ratios, the 27 at the sewer plant could be done with five. Eight employees vs. 44. Do the math.

Is that why the mayor, Collingwood, and the council have been so determined to keep Gaetani and Wang out of the Cleveland and Ashley plants? Will the designers of the facility reveal a hive of incompetence and political patronage? It’s an open question.

Panel is Obligated to Explore Staffing and Budget 

The study group is obligated to explore this issue. The first call they should make is to Gaetani and the second to Dr. Wang. Invite them into the two plants and then make a presentation on their findings. If what they are claiming is correct, the city has a whopping 36 employees on water and sewer that it doesn’t need. It’s also spending between $3.3 million and $3.8 million more each year for the routine running of water and sewer than it has to.

Gaetani says to run water and sewer at a high level but with no waste, it should cost taxpayers no more than $500,000 and $1 million a year (not including required EPA upgrades). If true, it invites a con game, one THE PLANET will warn citizens, taxpayers, officials, and the water panel about beforehand. The potential con will involve privatizing the water and sewer services.

The private company comes in with two valuable pieces of information:

(1) It knows the city’s current cost of $4.3 million.

(2) It knows what the actual, pared down cost would be: $500,000 to $1 million.

It will therefore come in at, say, $3.8 million. It then brags of “saving” half a million dollars, which politicians then tout on the campaign trail.

THE PLANET recommendation is two-fold:

(a) Invite Dr. Wang and Gaetani to make a presentation to determine if what they claim to be true is true.

(b) In any case, realize there is a flood of money being run through the spigots right now that appear to be waste, and not of the sewage kind?

If it takes $1 million to do a job, and taxpayers payers are paying $4.3 million, where is the other $3.3 million going? We ask this while noting an interesting “coincidence” — the city is currently advertising for a new pubic works big cheese. The city is advertising for a “Commissioner of Public Services.” Salary: $85,209 plus bennies worth about $22,000 a year.

Hmmmm.

Check this out: https://www.smartrecruiters.com/CityOfPittsfield/80835346-commissioner-of-public-services

Something fishy seems to be swimming in and around the waters of Pittsfield.

It’s time for this study to find out for sure.

———————————————————————————————————

“O Cupid, so thou pity me. / Spare not, but play thee!”Thomas Lodge, “Rosalind’s Madrigal,” (1590).

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

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dusty
dusty
6 years ago

Off topic

Meanwhile another millionaire will be getting a tax break in the fair city. (did I say fair?) Looks like Lord Bianchi may be giving the new Hotel North magnate a break on his taxes.

I sure hope all the seniors worried about losing their homes due to having to make up tax revenue for this project will take this in stride. Put it on the strong backs of the aging senior population for though they are bending they have not broken totally yet.

nota
nota
6 years ago

What Blizzard?

Thomas More
Thomas More
Reply to  nota
6 years ago

What blizzard? You didn’t see it? Go buy yesterday’s and today’s Berkshire Eagle. This blockbuster storm dominated the headlines. In large black print, front page, above the fold, read all about it I’m standing here in ankle deep snow with ten gallons of water, 20 loaves of bread and five cans of gas. Also Nota, make sure you buy tomorrows paper to read the headline – PITTSFIELD SPARED!

nostrodumbass
nostrodumbass
6 years ago

There was a time, not that long ago, in Pittsfield, when all they did was add chlorine to the water. There was no water & sewer separate bill. The water was provided out of the general tax revenues.

Before Krofta, before all the government regulations.

A time when people got along just swimmingly.

Now, your water is no longer good enough. You must pay through the nose to provide this most basic human service. You must get hosed. If you think your water is good enough, you are all wet. You must be flooded with higher taxes until you are drowning in debt.

This the 21st century and under Bianchi, you are soaking up the highest taxes and fees in the history of the city of Pittsfield.

Gatos
Gatos
6 years ago

I think it’s a good thing to review privatization every now and then, but my guess is that it would result in a short term savings only, along the lines that DV has described.
Wishing Mr. Gaetani on any study group is quite the curse. Sure, invite him and the mysterious and invisible Dr. Wang to present their case. But don’t invite him to be a member of the group. He has demonstrated that he would be disruptive and counterproductive. He doesn’t play well with others. Other members would quit and nothing would get done.
Say what you will about committees, but threats and bullying never work.

joetaxpayer
joetaxpayer
6 years ago

Should look into privatizing the
Mayor and City council.

Gene
Gene
6 years ago

Do not overlook what Mr. Gaetani says or ignore his knowledge, in public life how one delivers is less important that what one delivers. Agreethat the committee should tap this knowledge base.

Gatos
Gatos
Reply to  Gene
6 years ago

I have my doubts about his knowledge. I think he was more of a marketing guy. Meanwhile Dr. Wang is among the missing.

outfox
outfox
6 years ago

The BB issued media passes to its delivery people so they could get around the driving ban, even though they were offering the online version for free to everybody. One of the delivery people was on the BB’s fb describing the conditions in which the were required to work today. So, even though not a “Snowmageddon”, still hard on non-essential workers who shamefully got deputized as “media”.

Magic
Magic
Reply to  outfox
6 years ago

Outfox

I am working today and not for the media or health care, granted I am not driving. So not everyone is home and I am surely a non essential worker.

outfox
outfox
Reply to  Magic
6 years ago

Yes, this is not the first time Western MA. has suffered through a driving ban that was unnecessary for our neck of the woods, especially given our economic circumstances locally—every hour worked is essential! And in today’s BB, report that yet another local company is moving jobs away from here…

joetaxpayer
joetaxpayer
6 years ago

The driving ban in the Berkshires is a joke. It is costing many hard working people a days wages. Not everyone works for the state or city. Workers have driven in much worst conditions in past, only difference is central and eastern MA did not get much snow then so know need for travel ban. Let’s just try common sense.

outfox
outfox
Reply to  joetaxpayer
6 years ago

I know Ben Downing was on Twitter, letting people know that we’d have an answer at the noon press conference in regards the driving ban, but a 10 a.m. lift would have allowed many of us to salvage at least half the day. We had the re-calibrated snow total estimates well enough before then to allow for that.

Bill BallOcheck
Bill BallOcheck
6 years ago

This just in:

The NFL has determined the Ball Boy was in the bathroom for a total of 90 seconds; not enough time to wash his hands.

This very serious because the players who handle the ball in play were exposed to germs.

BlizzardGate
BlizzardGate
6 years ago

All of global warming computer generated models predicted that its January and we are deep into the middle of winter.

The good thing is that every bottle of water and every loaf of bread was sold.

The NYC subway system was shutdown for the first time in history.

Plus we got another practice run for lockdown martial law shelter in place government control.

We just had bad intelligence the weapons of snow destruction.

nota
nota
6 years ago

The Eagle had a big deal about some famous local actor, tuned in to the show, but didn’t see him?

PopKornSutton
PopKornSutton
6 years ago

NOta had it right above, where was the blizzard. The Planet wins again!

Scott
Scott
6 years ago

I heard guys out plowing we’re getting ticketed. Govt intrusion and an interference if life, liberty and happiness if you ask me.

1984
1984
Reply to  Scott
6 years ago

If you are out in a snowstorm during lockdown, have your papers ready please. Be ready to explain to authorities why you are out, where you came from and where you are going.

Being a properly trained citizen may prevent you from being detained, fined or locked up for failure to obey orders.

You will comply. Let this Blizzard serve as a training exercise for you. A good citizen is ready when stopped and asked “your papers please”.

Cosbiesladies
Cosbiesladies
6 years ago

Was the ban in Pittsfield? No wonder it was lonely out there? Yes, remember well when Chlorine in the water was an elixer. And the summers one never forgets, following the pesticide trucks in the summer, those were the days.

Payroll Patriot
Payroll Patriot
6 years ago

Dan, I wouldn’t vouch for Forestell (Mr.Giardiasis) and Sturgeon (BS) . Mr.Giardiasis caused a lot of xxxx to happen. BS couldn’t tell the difference between a molecule and a mothball. Additionally, Clark (Mr. Rail Car Man), who lives in NY, still hasn’t produced any jobs as economic development director. Collingwood and Sturgeon should be on the same group due to their relationship of disrespect for each other. You might get some good questions and results as well as entertainment. Just what is Collingwood’s private business? It was written up in a Berkshire magazine a few years ago.

ShellyLiver
ShellyLiver
6 years ago

B S is still be miffed from sewer gate. B S expected the city to pay for it. Colly said flush on your own dime.

amandaWell
amandaWell
6 years ago

How does Councilor Tully know that the Mayor works well over forty hours per week. Maybe she can come out of the moth balls and explain this.

B
B
Reply to  amandaWell
6 years ago

Good question, Amanda.

B
B
6 years ago

Dan, the clock on this site is behind by 2 hours. Can you please have it fixed? Thanks.