By Derek McKissock
News Editor 

Interim Manager Recommends Axing Engineer Position - Brevard NC

 

Jay Johnston, the City of Brevard's director of engineering and utilities, has been told his position will be recommended not to be funded in the upcoming budget.

Interim City Manager Jim Fatland said last week he would recommend to city council that the city engineer position be defunded starting July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.

"Most small towns really cannot afford to have a full-time engineer," said Fatland, the city's finance director who was named interim manager March 31, the same day Joe Moore resigned from the position.

In his budget, Fatland said he would recommend the city "going back" to what it did "before," hiring consulting engineers on a "needed basis."

On the utilities side, Fatland said the chief supervisors of the city's water and wastewater treatment plants will now report to him and attend department head meetings.

In June 2010, the council in its 2010-2011 budget approved hiring a full-time city engineer. The position's salary would start at roughly $100,000, including health and other benefits. Johnston was hired in March 2012.

Moore, who recommended creating the position, said at the time that the city spent about $200,000 a year on outside engineering services.

The city, he said, would see significant savings by having a full-time staff member, plus the position was needed because of the increasing complexity of city projects.

Fatland joined the city as a financial advisor in Nov. 1, 2011, after Terry Scruggs, the former finance director, died.

Fatland was named finance director a few months later. Fatland said he "never felt (a city engineer) was a needed position in the first place."

Fatland said that a full-time engineer had "not saved money" in his opinion.

Fatland said a "lot of people" may have believed that a lot of engineering projects were "designed" by Johnston, but, in fact, the city still hired outside engineering consultants on some projects, such as the Burrell Mountain Water Tank.

Johnston couldn't be reached for comment for this story.

Johnston, among other city projects, has pursued the necessary regulatory work required to build a new water plant, worked with the state to try and correct problems at the wastewater plant that have led to permit violations and fines -including implementing a pretreatment program for industrial wastewater users - and helped secure the recent offer of a $8.95 million no- interest loan from the state to renovate the wastewater plant.


Council hasn't decided yet on whether it will accept the loan.

Fatland said that before Johnston's last day, June 30, he would be working with Johnston on transitioning these and other projects to fall under Fatland's oversight or other department heads.

For example, Fatland said inquiries or questions about the wastewater plant and the $8.95 million offer should now be directed to him.

To stay on track to possibly accept the loan, an engineering report is due to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resource (DENR) by May 1.

In an April 8 letter to DENR, Fatland asked for a 120-day extension, which has been granted.

This extra time, Fatland said, would allow the city to explore options on renovation work at the wastewater plant.

He said council is "pleased" about the extension and would be "more comfortable about making a decision."

The council, Fatland said, was getting "nervous" about spending $40 million for a new water plant and then $8.95 million for the wastewater plant.

"That's a big fiscal impact on the rate payers of this city," he said.

Johnston and Moore had recommended that council accept the loan.

As previously reported, on March 30 during a council work session about the loan, Johnston reiterated another recommendation - that came from a consultant firm hired by the city - that the city should change the method of how it treats the wastewater. The loan would have paid for the change.


During the meeting, Councilman Mac Morrow, in particular, questioned this recommendation, repeated his concerns about the financial impact of accepting the loan on city residents, believed the city should wait to see the impact of other actions the city has taken to improve the wastewater plant, and wanted to pursue other options, which, he suggested, hadn't been fully investigated.


At another point during the meeting, Councilman Charlie Landreth, who, along with Councilman Wes Dickson, had previously voiced support to accept the loan, wondered why staff's recommendations were being questioned.

"(We are) trying to understand the details of the choice a lot more than we ever try to understand why we pick one fire truck over another," Landreth said. "I feel like we are digging in to technology that, from my perspective, I have to follow the information (staff) provide(s)."

"I think there is years and years of knowledge that goes into making a good decision about how to process waste."

Council Committees

During tonight's regular council meeting, Fatland was scheduled to recommend the formation of five council committees.

Two council members would be appointed to each committee, which would focus on the following areas: public works and utilities; public safety (police and fire); parks, trails and recreation; finance and human resources; and the downtown master plan.

The committee meetings would be open to the public, Fatland said. Any action that came out of these meetings would only be recommendations, he said, and would go before the full council for a final decision.

"I think we will have more discussion and less need for work sessions," said Fatland, who has seen the committee format work well in other cities.

Fatland said he believes council was "frustrated" by the workshops and weren't "moving ahead as fast as they thought."

He said part of the job for the public works and utilities committee will include "thoroughly evaluating" the proposed state loan.

 
 

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