NEWBURYPORT — City councilors agreed to a transfer request last night that authorizes using some of the funding for the wastewater treatment plant project as a stipend for Brendan O'Regan, director of the Department of Public Services.
O'Regan will receive a monthly stipend of $1,500 for the length of the project. A total of $18,000 would be authorized for this year. The wastewater treatment plant project funding does include a line item for a coordinator, Mayor John Moak said Friday.
Members of the Sewer Commission attended the council meeting last night to urge them to approve the request.
Member Bob Cook noted the "compressed" time line the department was given in order to meet the funding time line for federal stimulus money to help pay for the project. That deadline was in August, and the department was only given approval for the project in the spring.
Councilors ultimately agreed to fund the transfer in a 9 to 2 vote, with councilors Tom Jones and Kathleen O'Connor Ives voting against it.
At-large Councilor Donna Holaday noted the stipend is "fairly standard protocol" as O'Regan has gone "over and above" his normal job description in meeting the requirements of the project.
By putting in an "amazing" number of hours and work with his skill set, O'Regan was able to secure savings to the city by securing grants totaling $3-$4 million, Holaday said.
At-large Councilor Tom Jones argued against funding the stipend, saying O'Regan, as a department head, is sometimes required to put in additional hours, as all managers are. By giving him a stipend on top of his regular salary, it sends the "wrong message" to residents and other managers, Jones said.
"I can't support this," he said.
At-large Councilor Barry Connell urged councilors to consider "what are we getting for what we're spending." The city met some extremely tight deadlines, which other communities couldn't make, putting Newburyport at the top of the line for stimulus funding, he said. O'Regan put extensive hours into the project outside of his normal hours, including working weekends since May, Connell said. If it weren't for his skill set, the city would have had to hire an outside consultant to do the work and likely wouldn't have met the deadlines.
Sewer Commission Chairman Dave Hanlon said the stipend would be retroactive to July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
Noting he hates to spend money given the financial challenges the city is facing, Ward 5 Councilor Brian Derrivan said he supports the stipend. If the city had to hire an outside consultant, "we could've probably paid twice" the amount of the stipend, he said.
Ward 6 Councilor Tom O'Brien said he was supporting the stipend, as he has faith in O'Regan. When O'Regan was overseeing the Plum Island water and sewer project, and getting a stipend to do so, the project went well, O'Brien said. When he stepped down and a consultant was brought in, "that's when it all went downhill."
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Bob Cronin and Ari Herzog, who will join the City Council in January, urged councilors to vote against funding the stipend, saying it wouldn't send the right message to residents as the city faces financial challenges.
"It's not the time or the place (for the stipend)," Cronin said.
The Sewer Commission approached city officials in May to request giving O'Regan additional compensation for the additional responsibilities he now has in overseeing the project.
Those responsibilities are outside the scope of his regular job, Moak said Friday, and include reviewing designs, taking part in permitting efforts, reviewing the financing plan and participating in the value engineering process, among others.
While Moak said he is "not an absolute lover of stipends," he felt in this case that O'Regan has met the criteria used to determine the stipend. Moak said he is not giving O'Regan the stipend in response to the additional hours he is spending working on the project, but because of the additional work he is doing.
"I'm paying him for additional responsibilities," Moak said.