By Michelle Pelletier Marshall
---- — ROWLEY – Two months after the water department’s primary and secondary operators resigned due to their alleged involvement in butchering deer at Well #3 on Boxford Road, which resulted in a $25,000 fine for the town, the town is still searching for new operators, though the jobs were posted on March 19.
Water Commissioner Tim Toomey said the hiring process has been slow due to several reasons. These include the need to request a lifting of the hiring freeze, the need to find a candidate with specific qualifications, and the consideration of posting the job in additional areas.
“We do have some very qualified candidates in the mix, but I’d like to see more apply,” he said, noting the town has about six resumes so far.
The lack of water department staff, coupled with following the DEP order, has resulted in the hiring of operators from Weston & Sampson, the engineering firm the town is working with on the new $12 million water treatment plant, to ensure the continuity of operations at the water department. With this assistance, said Toomey, the water department is “completely operational, safe and in compliance.”
At least one full-time operator from Weston & Sampson, and sometimes two, are assisting in the daily maintenance of the town’s water facilities at a rate of about $80 an hour (the average pay for a primary water operator is between $21.25 and $26.29 an hour, and for the secondary operator between $16.79 and $22.39 an hour, plus call back and standby pay). Weston & Sampson employees have been working for the town since Feb. 25, according to Water Department Manager Laura Hamilton.
Hamilton explained that Article 26 on the May 6, 2013 Special Town Meeting warrant allotted for the transfer of $20,000 (and was approved) to fund the need for this “emergency certified operator services.” The money was transferred from the water treatment plant interim loan interest line item, which is extra ratepayer money that was not used in the last fiscal year.
The water department typically operates with a primary operator, two secondary operators and the superintendent, in addition to Hamilton and an administrative assistant. Currently, Weston & Sampson representatives are working as the primary operator and Rob Swiniarski, who has been with the water department for five years, is a secondary operator. Another Weston & Sampson representative assists with the other secondary water operator duties as necessary.
Superintendent John Rezza, who was on medical leave earlier this year, just left for a month on another medical leave, and the board of water commissioners is debating hiring an interim superintendent. In addition, the position of the administrative assistant is currently open.
Hamilton said that the process of finding new operators is not an easy one, seeing that is a “specialty” that requires licensed, certified applicants. She said that applications for new operators were being screened by the town’s personnel board. Toomey added that interviews are expected to begin within two weeks.
“I want to make it clear that business is still going on at the water department and all is ok,” said Hamilton, stressing that the department is now working with a fiscal team on budget items and that the establishment of a stabilization fund for the department at the Town Meeting will help monitor expenditures, as will the recently created five-year capital plan for the department.
Water board meetings take place nearly every week on Wednesday evenings at 6 p.m. at the 401 Central Street facility. Call the department at 978-948.2640 to confirm. Residents are encouraged to attend to learn more.