York government understaffed, threatening to ‘hurt services and cost more’

Kenneth C. Zirkel | Wikipedia Commons
Kenneth C. Zirkel | Wikipedia Commons
York Town Hall in York, Maine.
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A consultant also recommended consolidating fire departments and rearranging the offices at Town Hall.
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YORK, Maine — A consultant who recently completed a municipal staffing study said the town is “if anything, understaffed, which in the long term will hurt services and reduce the ability for risk management and cost more.”

Matt Young of Ascent Consulting LLC recommended most immediately that the town hire an information technologist to oversee the town’s entire computer system, and an economic development director for “consistency and direct control of planned development.”

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Other highlights in the report: a need to add security measures to Town Hall; creation of one fire department under one chief; removal of the senior center from Parks and Recreation; moving the tax collecting function from the town clerk to the finance department; switch the town manager (second floor) and assessing department (first floor) offices at Town Hall so the public can have more access to the town manager; and creation of a succession planning document for every department in town.

Young also delved into York’s status in several metrics as compared to Kennebunkport, Kennebunk, Kittery, Wells, Scarborough and Biddeford. For one chart, he compared salary and benefits, including overtime, insurance and retirement, for every full-time, part-time and seasonal employee.

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York employees are paid on average $100,891, lower than Kennebunk at $119,902 and on par with Kennebunkport at $94,257, but more than Kittery, at $72,752 and Wells, $84,212.

At a recent selectmen’s meeting, Selectman Robert Palmer said he wanted to know why the numbers diverged so much — how could Wells, with a seasonal population greater than York’s, retain a staffing level of 68 while York had 107, and why York’s average is $100,891 and some other towns pay less or more.

Young said he used publicly available documentation to come up with the comparisons. To drill down further, “you’d have to be a forensics accountant to be able to compare apples to apples.”

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“I would hope we would be looking at efficiencies, but without drilling down, I guess there really isn’t any way to accomplish that,” Palmer said.

In terms of the IT position, the town is working to purchase Munis software, which will allow it to, among other functions, be able to offer residents online credit card payments for car registration, tax collection and more.

An IT manager will be critical as that software rolls out, and will also be on top making sure the town is not the target of ransomware, he said.

“You guys need to have a full-time IT staff,” Young said. “Part of the concern is really a growing concern over ransomware. They’ve targeted large municipalities and now they’re moving toward smaller communities.”

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Town Manager Steve Burns agreed with the need for an IT position, saying “a staff person here full-time, instead of a consultant three days a week, would be a good thing.”

As for the economic development positions, Burns said that, for now he would like to see that handled on a contract basis. In fact, the selectmen have authorized Burns to enter into negotiations for a consultant (see separate story).

Young made reference several times to the need for more security measures at Town Hall. Currently, anyone can walk in to any door unimpeded, while school doors, for instance, are locked and visitors have to be buzzed in. Young said a secure front and back entrance “should be constructed and can be done inexpensively.”

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In a significant realignment, he suggests the York Senior Center be separated from Parks and Recreation, which “has a different mission and purpose.” He suggests that perhaps the center align with York Housing Authority to create a new community services department. He also recommends a community center at the Bog Road town land as fields are already on the property.

Young also suggested all departments undertake succession planning. With regard to the fire departments, he said that should include “adding one single full-time paid fire chief” overseeing both departments.

He also suggests a third satellite fire station be created at the Department of Public Works building on Chases Pond Road once that department moves to the former Maine Department of Transportation facility on Route 1.

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He said the town would also benefit by having most department offices under one roof, which “would help with staff management and team cohesiveness.”

Overall, he said, he was impressed with the town. “The department heads have great attitudes and an entrepreneurial spirit that is refreshing to see in the public sector,” he said.

 



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