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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Atkinson sees three-way race for road agent Stewart's challengers pledge to reduce costs

From the Eagle Tribune;

Atkinson sees three-way race for road agent Stewart's challengers pledge to reduce costs
By Eric Parry

ATKINSON — Road Agent Ted Stewart has been in charge of the roads for 17 years, but this year he has two competitors for the job who say they can save the town money.

Neil Hamel and Rick Picone are both vying for the two-year seat as road agent that earns Stewart about $33,000 and health benefits for a 30-hour-a-week job.

Both challengers said they would cut down on the amount of salt the town uses and stop spending so much money on rented equipment.

Hamel, 43, said he could cut the salt budget in half by using a mixture that included half sand.

Last year, the town spent about $70,000 on salt and $3,000 on sand.

Hamel, who owns an excavation and landscaping business, said he fears the current practice of using straight salt on town roads will cause environmental problems, as well as costing lots of money.

Picone, 51, said if the town used a two-thirds mixture of sand and salt, the town could save $30,000.

But Stewart said he's happy with the amount of salt the town uses.

A straight salt diet is the most effective way to clear the roads quickly and have them usable within three hours of a storm.

"If people compare salt use to surrounding towns, we use approximately 50 percent less," Stewart said.

The only reason the town spends so much more on salt is because the price went up 30 percent this year, Stewart said.

He said he has tried to minimize the amount of salt used and the town has purchased equipment to make the application more efficient in recent years.

The two challengers said they'd also like to cut the $100,000 the town spends on rented equipment.

Stewart rents three trucks to the town, but Hamel said he would end that practice and only use outside contractors.

"It's almost like if you're going to be road agent, then be road agent and not an equipment rental business," Hamel said.

The town only has one truck for plowing, so all of the other equipment is rented from local companies. Stewart only supplies three of the 13 trucks used for plowing.

The rate the town charges is set by the Board of Selectmen and approximately 25 percent less than surrounding communities, Stewart said. SClB"We spend as much on winter maintenance in 2008 as we did in 1991," Stewart said.

He also rents his trucks to the town for minor repair work done by the Highway Department, but all major road work goes out to bid.

Still, Picone, who has lived in town for 31 years and has 30 years of experience working in highway departments, said he has other ways to save the town money. He said he wouldn't take the health benefits provided by the town.

The competition for the job doesn't surprise Stewart. The job provides guaranteed work in a time when that can be tough to find, he said.

"A lot of private contractors can't say that now compared to being unemployed," Stewart said.

Voters will elect the road agent for a two-year term at Town Meeting next month.


Anonymous said...

Good, I think we need a change.

Sawyer Rd has the makings of a major car destroyer pot hole that has been there for a number of weeks. I guess once it rips the under carriage of some poor souls car out, the Atkinson highway crew will fix it.

Anonymous said...

Are you referring to the forming road crater close to where the Lewis builders driveway is?

Anonymous said...

Ted has been making money off the town for years renting his junky equipment for top dollar. If the town bought our own stuff we'd own it for what we paid him in rentals over the last few years.

Doesn't he get the math on the road salt issue? He thinks 100% salt is the right way to go? Contaminate all our wells why dont you. You don't NEED 100% salt. There is this magic stuff called SAND you can mix in to cut down on salt. Which saves the environment and saves us money. Now there's a new concept. I like Ted's spin that we use 50% less salt than surrounding towns. Which is true when you have 40% less roads to maintain. Sounds like Fuzzy Math to me.

We need someone who'll change these practices. I spoke with Neil Hamel and he knows what he's talking about. He promises to outsource all the work rather than lining his pockets from taking as much work as he can. This BS about stuff going out to bid is not always true. Ted does the pieces of road work in increments of under $5K so that he doesn't have to put stuff out to bid.

Ted says we have the same maintenance budget in 2008 as compared to 1991? REALLY? I want to see the documented numbers. Does he just make up this stuff as he goes along? We need a new road agent and we need one bad. Ted is costing us a fortune with his fuzzy math.

Fishgutz said...

I graduated from TRHS with Ted. Back when they actually taught math.
I'm sure his math is just fine.
When one adds initial purchase plus maintenance costs, renting is often a better way to go. When the equipment fails, the rental company brings a replacement.
Ted has been do this job his entire life. He knows the town roads better than anyone.
Now, if his older brother were running the show I would not be so confident. Ted never used the side wing plow against his "enemies." But the look of utter glee in big bro's face as he pile 4 feet of heavy crap at the end of the driveway I just cleared was indicative of a possibly unstable person.
There will always be someone who thinks the job can be done better. Nobody is perfect.
New England Winters are bad for roads. That is in part why I have 33" tires on my Jeep. No pot hole is going to take me out.
But then, I'm down south now where we don't have pot holes and guys run 22's all year.
Ted, if I lived there, you'd have my vote.
See you at the 30th. Maybe.

Anonymous said...

I think most people would agree that Ted is a good guy especially those that grew up with him and are life long friends.

Its the way he does business that is the problem. In 2007 Ted charged $100K in rental equipment that was his equipment rented to the town. We could have bought new equipment for what we pay him in rentals so he is acting in the best interest of Ted - not the town. We can buy equipment and have them pay for themselves in about 2 years. This is a no brainer ROI and big time cost savings to taxpayers.

If Ted thinks 100% salt is the best way to go then I strongly disagree with him. Salt costs are up and other towns and states are all using a sand/salt mix that will be as effective, if not more effective for road safety not to mention spare our wells from salt contamination. We could save the taxpayers another $30-40K by using a sand/salt mix. I'd like to see my well protected if you don't mind.

There are so many stories I hear from residents complaining about the inconsistency of road plowing because Ted is out there first with his trucks soaking up the hours until he's overwhelmed. Only then does he call in for contractor support.

There are more if you want to hear but I suspect many people don't want to hear the truth. We need a new road agent. If a friend of mine handled the job the way its done now, I wouldn't vote for them just because I grew up with him.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but don't forget Mark says Teds the best thing since sliced bread. In fact Ted only charges $25.00 per hr to rent his monster backhoe to us. Oh, I just remembered that Mark made a correction and its actually more like $75.00 per hour. Fuzzy math Me thinks. Can we put a picture of his backhoe on the homepage with a title of FUZZY MATH like we did with the cruiser? Clean em all up if you want my support on other issues.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps salt in the wells doesn't seem to bother anyone especially those that have wells.

After all, we have some clown in town dumping humane sewage onto their fields which can contaminate a well very easily releasing pathogens and other nasty things. However the DES says it is fine. If this is fine, why do they have trucks in the field at 2:00 am in the morning? Why is it so secret?

But if the DES says it is ok, then I guess it is. Same with the overuse of salt. If the DES says that we can over pump from our aquifer, then they must be right on that one too. After all, they are the government and they more about things like this than we do.

MAcciard said...

As usual someone is not telling the truth about the numbers, and doesn't have the courage to put their name to their post, so let me correct you;

Teddy did NOT charge the Town $100,000 in 2007 for equipment rental as you stated. He was paid $49,527.38 for contracted services according to the 2007 town report.

The Selectmen set the rate that they pay for his equipment. We currently pay, if I am not mistaken, $61.00/hr for the 10 wheeler with the sander, out of that $61.00/hr. Teddy has to pay the driver, payroll taxes, workmen's comp., Gas, Tires and Maintenance. Not much left over for profit!

We pay $51/hr I think for the 1 ton, and $40 or so for the pickup. Out of all of those Teddy has the same expenses, driver, taxes, gas, tires, maintenance.

When we checked into the costs of this equipment on the budget committee 4 years ago, the lease on a backhoe, was $19,000/yr, plus driver, gas maintenance and insurance. For the 10 wheeler lease payments were $36,000/yr.

By the way, our rates are below every surrounding town.

Anonymous said...

Great info Mark and TRUE! I have been in the construction business for 35 years. I have owned many pieces of equipment and a new backhoe would be in the vicinity of 80,000 dollars. Now add a driver, insurance and maintenance and you got a huge budget buster. I hope the others running for road agent has equipment they would "rent" until our budget could afford to buy it's own equipment. Teds not perfect but numbers don't lie.

Anonymous said...

Ted's old beaters can be bought on e-bay for next to nothing. Check it out, numbers don't LIE. We could
buy a whole fleet of beat down clunkers for what we pay in rental fees right now. Oh, then we would have to maintain them and we would
lose alot of money. Well, how is it being down right now? Maybe Ted
runs as a not-for-profit out of the kindness of his heart. I notice Mark's post is full of "I think" when talking about figures. Isn't that the same terminology he used when quoting the $25.00 per hour backhoe rate on this blog last year? Why not post facts and remove the "I think" tag? Are our rates well below other towns? Are you talking about the road agent rate of renting his equipment to the town? What is the rate that other road agents charge? Do any other towns allow this practice?
If not, then why post misleading statements about other towns rates? I am not aware of any other town locally using this practice. Why does this not go out to bid for renting old equipment? I bet lots of contractors that are out of work would love to rent their equipment to the town. In fact, I'd like to buy a beater myself and put it on the payroll. What say you?

MAcciard said...

I say, "I think" because I have been out of the Town /budget business for a couple of years, so I am not certain my figures are accurate. Last I checked we were paying $75/hour for the backhoe, and at that time Plaistow, Kingston, Hampstead, were all at least $5.00/hr higher. Same for the trucks.

Also the reason this is a bargain fiscally for the town, is that Ted pays all his own maintenance, gas, insurance, tires, drivers, and their taxes, and workmen's comp. Further, Atkinson does NOT pay a 4 hour minimum, as all of the other towns do when they rent equipment. And the equipment is at our disposal, immediately whenever we need it, just as if we owned it.

There is no waiting for equipment to be delivered, no delivery charges, no 4 hour minimum, and no finding, training, and insuring the drivers. If a backhoe driver destroys something by accident, it is not the Town's liability right now, it is Ted's insurance. His equipment, his employee driving it, not the towns.

Now if you want to put forward other numbers, lets see them, and their provenance.

Take the 10 wheeler, for example; when I last looked into this for Russ in 2006, those vehicles get 4-5 mpg. meaning they typically burn 7-9 gallons of diesel per hour. With diesel at an average of $2.50/gal, that means that the gas alone costs Ted $17.50- $22.50/hr. A driver costs at least $20.00/hr plus payroll taxes and workmen's comp. Then you have the asset and maintenance costs of the vehicle itself.

Now explain to me how Ted is screwing the Town?

Anonymous said...

Change is in the air.Time to change lanes. With Niel Hamel

Anonymous said...

Sound bites! But where are the detailed challenges to the numbers?

Anonymous said...

still not seeing either Hamel or Picone, refute the nmbers

Anonymous said...

We're threw with Stew, get real with Neil.

Anonymous said...

Mark those are very challenging words. Have you spoken to either Rick Picone or Neil Hamel and asked them that question? I think they would be glad to give you an earful on Ted's business practices. Your defense of him is admirable and I am sure Ted is a nice guy and a good friend. But as Road Agent there certainly is room for improvement from what I've heard.

So have you spoken with Rick or Neil? For example, they both seem to think 100% salt useage is unnecessary, too expensive and threatens our groundwater. Have you discussed these issues with them?

Anonymous said...

I can tell you this, the roads this morning in Atkinson are very bad. Ted, you should be ashamed of yourself!

MAcciard said...

I do not know, nor have I ever spoken to Mr. Picone. I spoke with MR. Hamel about 18 months ago, about Ted but I dont remember when and where the conversation took place.

But my question still stands. With those numbers, how is Ted screwing the Town?

Anonymous said...

Those of you who know me, know, as Teddy does, that if I thought that Teddy was a bad deal for the town, or that he was in some way screwing the town, I would confront him about it, and would be leading the charge for change.

But I have looked at the numbers, over the years, and talked to other road agents, and I have come to believe that he is a very good deal for the town.

Anonymous said...

You know why Picone and Hamel are running? Because the economy is in the toilet, everyone is looking for work. What better way to make money than get elected running the Highway Department or Town Clerk or Tax Collector. These people have no idea how to run a Highway Department. The premise that Picone is going on with the salt is the same premise that Ray Morreli ran with years ago. I can say that from an aspect of someone who does a lot of driving during the winter, this town is 100% better than the surrounding towns.
Ted has put forth the greatest of care for our town. I am sorry to the Sawyer Avenue resident who says there is a huge pothole on the road. In case someone has not told you, IT IS WINTER, THAT HAPPENS. They can put down cold patch and fix it, but the next time they plow it will be torn back up. I know this better than half the people on this blog.
As for Picone, doesn't he live in a condo, who has an association do their plowing. When does he plow? I watched the candidates night and I am sorry but the other two are clueless.
As for Hamel, will you put you signature to paper and write that you will never use your own equipment? I thought so. Obviously he needs work, given this economy. When the economy gets better, does that mean the town will be neglected? I have been in this town for many years and I know that we are better off with Ted than we are with these other two.
In closing if Ted was getting rich off this town, wouldn't he drive a better truck. Wouldn't he live in a big house in town, not a house that is 200 years old. Ted, you are doing a great job and you have my vote.
If I offended anyone then I am sorry. I think someone needs to stand up for their beliefs. Freedom of speech.

Anonymous said...

I am very disappointed that the candidtaes have not posted here. Last year, they could post and no one was allowed to comment. It was for information only. I would like to see that again. Moderator, can you invite them to do this again and set up an area just for them?

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous 3:16 PM

I disagree and think that Atkinson roads rank third or forth in other town comparisons, this is especially adherent to the back roads within the town.

If you have traveled through Salem and into Atkinson, there is a very big difference in the road surface condition. I do not know if this is because of the way they plow or usage of de-icer, but there is certainly a big difference. Try coming from Hooker farm road into Atktion some day and you will soon see. Plaistow is another town that also has much better surface conditions.

Potholes, irregular surface conditions and road debree has never been something that taken seriously in this town.

Anonymous said...

Ted has my vote, I have driven in ALL the surrounding towns during and after a storm and have found the TOWN roads to be top notch in Atkinson. Ted is not "getting rich" off this town...NOBODY who works for this Highway Dept. can get rich with no overtime, and min. pay. While Ted's equipment is not in the best shape, but again he's not RICH, his pockets are shallow.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to New England, potholes happen, they are everywhere!
I could be wrong but last I knew Sawyer Ave. was a STATE road, and Atkinson only does snow removal. Same for Academy Ave.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2:23 PM

No kidding, however they should not take 8 weeks to fix! If the hole cannot be avoided, perhaps Atkinson can pay for the car repair bill.

Anonymous 2:18 PM

Top Notch? Yes the roads were nicely cleaned up the day after with much help from the sun.

Anonymous said...

they are much better than Salem where some roads dont even get plowed till after the storm is over.

Or Hampstead and Derry, same story.

I bent a rim on a pothole on cluff crossing rd. in Salem, they told me, sorry the town is not responsible for damage resulting from potholes.