We read with great concern the recent KJ article (“Vote in the works,” July 15) about the petition drive to force another vote about the phase-out of the Readfield Public Works Department.

A majority of Readfield citizens already decided this issue in June. We voted to abolish a public works department and contract those services out privately because doing so, in the long run, saves our taxpayers money and will result in better service.

The leader of the effort says that Readfield voters “don’t know what’s going on.” That sounds as if he doesn’t think we are capable of making an informed decision for ourselves.

He and others seemed to have overlooked several major aspects to this decision.

Supporters of a second vote, those who think that keeping a public works department is a good thing, support that claim by looking solely at the yearly cost of operating a public works department.

That, however, doesn’t give an accurate accounting. When evaluating the total costs of a government bureaucracy, we must consider all of the long-term costs as well, such as workers compensation, sick leave, heath insurance and retirement benefits, to name just a few.

These costs are inherently unpredictable and extend far beyond the life of a three-year snowplowing contract. History also tells us that these costs will be more expensive than what towns have projected or budgeted.

Assuming that burden and that risk may make sense for a municipality the size of Augusta or even Winthrop. But for Readfield, a town of 2,600, it doesn’t.

Here’s another reason why we voted to get rid of the public works department: the expansion was presented to Readfield citizens as a regional plan — but that never materialized.

In theory, if the towns of Wayne and Manchester joined, as Readfield town officials had indicated, the three towns together could share all of the operating costs and the associated long-term costs.

Regionalization of municipal services is something every town in Maine ought to consider. It might have been a good idea in this case, but neither Wayne nor Manchester decided to join. It doesn’t make much sense, therefore, for Readfield to continue to pay for all that unnecessary bureaucracy.

We are frustrated by the Readfield Select Board’s recent decision to spend taxpayer dollars on an audit to project year-to-year costs of the public works department versus contracting out for those services through 2013. This was especially alarming given that the Select Board put out the request for proposal for the audit and selected a bid within 48 hours at two specially set, hastily called and poorly publicized town meetings.

It’s not as though the Select Board didn’t already get the chance to weigh in on this issue. In fact, its recommendation and that of the Budget Committee in favor of keeping a public works department was printed in bold type on the ballot when Readfield voters made their decision on June 7.

This audit also is inadequate because it cannot take into consideration one of the more compelling reasons for disbanding the public works department. After two years of experience, a majority of Readfield voters felt they got better service when public works were contracted out. No audit can assess this opinion more comprehensively, or more accurately, than the election that took place on June 7.

This audit is inherently flawed. It will not incorporate the significant long-term costs involved in running a public works department.

And it cannot represent the opinions of Readfield residents about the adequacy of public works service they receive. Indeed, the proposed audit completely ignores these concerns.

The 424 Readfield citizens who voted to disband the public works department on June 7 were well aware of these issues. We encourage our friends and neighbors to carefully examine, as we did, the long-term financial burden that this new bureaucracy will have upon the taxpayers of our town.

We are confident that, when they do, they will, once again, conclude that dissolving the public works department was, and is, in the best interests of all Readfield citizens.

William Brown and Sonya Clark of Readfield.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.