WEST NEWBURY — A policy aimed at regulating the subcontractors who plow the town’s streets each winter received such an icy reception that selectmen were forced to call for a do-over.
Earlier this month the board agreed that effective Jan. 1, the town would adopt language in a management letter from a recent audit that required snowplowers to sign a contract and have insurance information on file with the town. The town must be named as “an additional insured” on the subcontractor’s insurance plan.
The policy was not new, but it was not being consistently followed, the auditor reported. Any plower, who does not follow this policy after the new year will not be considered a contractor and will not get paid, stressed the board. As part of the discussion, selectmen sought input from the town’s insurance company regarding recommended liability amounts for the subcontractors’ policies.
But this week selectmen Chairman Glenn Kemper said his board wanted to revisit the decision after hearing from the town’s Public Works boss, Gary Bill, who was receiving significant push back from some of his most dependable subcontractors.
Snowplowers were unhappy with a requirement to carry policies upward of $1 million per occurrence in the aggregate when most towns require policies of only $300,000 per individual and $500,000 per occurrence.
“How am I suppose to work with that?” a frustrated Bill asked selectmen on Monday night. This is something that should have been reviewed back in September, not during the height of the plowing season, he said.
Veteran plower Rick Thurlow said he has had “a very good relationship” with the town in the 44 years he has plowed West Newbury’s streets
“We’re not getting rich on plowing,” said Thurlow, noting he has earned $6,000 doing the work last season and averaged $4,588 annually over the past several years. But when he heard of the recent selectmen’s decision, Thurlow said he “was ready to throw it in.”
“Well, I hope you don’t,” said Kemper, noting that the town gets compliments on the conditions of its roads in the winter. The chairman stressed that the policy was not new, but felt there had been a misunderstanding.
He agreed that the amounts proposed by the town’s insurance company were “high and ridiculous” but stressed that the information got out while selectmen were still in the process of discussing it.
“It was a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes,” he said. Selectmen wanted to start with “a clean slate” and “just want to make sure that what’s in place gets done,” said Kemper.
Town counsel Michael McCarron said that after briefly reviewing other town policies, he would recommend subcontractors be required to carry $250,000 per individual and $500,000 per occurrence for personal injury and $250,000 for property damage.
When Thurlow said his insurance company refused to cover the town on his policy, McCarron said it was probably because he “didn’t ask the right question.” Subcontractors should ask that the town be added to the policy as “an additional insured” — a request that shouldn’t cost them any more money, said McCarron.
Nathan Dennis, who has plowed in town for 10 years, said language in the contract is problematic because the way it is worded contractors could be sued and held responsible for all legal fees if someone drives off an icy road that the snowplower worked on. He said selectmen should take more time working to make the contract fairer before making it a requirement.
“I would have to agree,” responded Selectman David Archibald. “ It could be interpreted that the contractor is responsible for failure to remove ice in some spot. The town’s insurer could try to dump it onto the contractor’s insurer.”
Ultimately, selectmen agreed that for the remainder of this snow season, subcontractors must carry policies with a minimum of $100,000 per individual and $300,000 per occurrence for personal injury, plus $100,000 for property damage. Insurance certificates that also name the town as an additional insured must be on file with Bill and with the town accountant, or else the contractor will not be paid.
In other business, selectmen appointed Nick DeLena to the Finance Committee until 2016 and Elisa Grammer volunteered her time to manage the town’s website. Police Chief Lisa Holmes got the OK to move ahead with a grant to purchase a live scan fingerprint system and replace laptops in the police cruisers. There will be no additional or ongoing costs to the town.
The board postponed a discussion on a proposal to stabilize the American Legion Hall using Community Preservation Act funds because more information is forthcoming from the Community Preservation Committee.
At the end of open session, the board went behind closed doors to discuss an Elliot Fund request and approve minutes from an executive session held on Dec. 1.