Essex County plans on using town workers to refurbish their highway garage in Lewis.
ELIZABETHTOWN — Lawmakers have arrived at a solution for refurbishing the siding on the Essex County Highway Department Garage in Lewis.
Do it in-house.
That was the solution pitched by Christopher Garrow, the county’s new Department of Public Works chief, to county officials on Monday, July 21.
Earlier this year, lawmakers subjected former DPW head Anthony LaVigne to weeks of questioning on the rising costs, which topped out at $125,000 before opting to rebid the project.
While $100,000 was initially budgeted for the facelift, the cost had drifted to $189,000 following the latest bid, the lone offer generated during the latest round.
Garrow estimated using town workers would cost $40,000 and would count toward the state’s push for local municipalities to demonstrate shared services for their constituents to be eligible for property tax rebate checks.
The materials have already been purchased, County Manager Dan Palmer said, and are simply awaiting installation of the new cement siding.
“It’s just a question of labor,” he said.
Board Chair Randy Douglas said he could get behind this “outside of the box” thinking.
“Do it under shared services and give some revenue to the towns,” DPW Committee Chairman Gerald Morrow added. “It’ll save us some money.”
Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston said he didn’t see a downside:
“If it works, it works,” he said. “It’s a chance to save $100,000, a breath of fresh air.”
Lawmakers previously sparred on how much of the weathered wood siding would have to be removed. Some areas of the sprawling complex were said to be more deteriorated than others, LaVigne said.
“It’s not a major job if we have the manpower and know what we’re doing,” Schroon Supervisor Mike Marnell said.
Palmer urged caution:
“If you’re bidding a project based on small increments, you’re pricing higher in set-up and breakdown costs,” he said. “At this point, in-house is problematic in the long term.”
He recommended a compromise:
“Have the contractor do the bigger portions and do the smaller portions in-house.”
Douglas estimated towns could peel away four or five guys from their highway departments, those tasked with ditching, shouldering and general maintenance, for the jobs.
“Do it like the other ones,” Morrow said. “Reimburse for labor and fringe benefits. Whatever they make in their towns plus fringe benefits.”
The board voted unanimously to move forward and doubled down on Monday, July 28 when the resolution passed through another procedural hurdle.
Two other changes were noted at the monthly highway meeting:
Breaking from his predecessor, Garrow opted to present his department’s monthly report in a Q&A-style format with lawmakers — not a word-for-word reading of the often laborious reports, an approach favored by his predecessor.
“I was always wondering why the DPW did that,” Morrow said. “No other department does that.”
Palmer noted the county complex gained three parking spaces after several garbage bins were carted back to DPW headquarters.
“Those have always been an eyesore,” he said.