News Feature

Stonington
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, November 21, 2019
Selectmen tighten fish pier operations

by Rich Hewitt

Selectmen will consider tighter controls on fish pier operations after an audit discovered a problem with the facility’s fuel accounts.

According to board of selectmen Chairman Donna Brewer, the accounting discrepancy was related to the individual accounts through which fishermen purchase fuel at the pier. Under the fuel purchase system, fishermen pay up front and then draw down on that amount each time they fuel up. Purchases should not overrun the account and no one should be extended credit. Brewer said that issue has been corrected.

In response to the issue, the selectmen opted to move the bookkeeping functions for the fuel account to the town office, at least for the time being. The move will coincide with the installation upgrades to the computer software at the office, according to Town Manager Kathleen Billings.

Selectmen have periodically expressed concerns about the way equipment is treated on the fish pier, and at their November 18 meeting, much of their concern focused on the waste oil collection system there. Fishermen bring used oil to the pier usually in 5-gallon buckets, according to Billings. The oil is stored there until the town’s public works employees collect it and bring it the transfer station.

The problem, she said, is that recently some of those buckets have included other items such as rubber gloves and filters.

“I don’t know why it’s so messy down there,” Billings said. “They know they’re supposed to drain out the filters.”

The waste oil is stored for use in waste oil furnaces, she added, and needs to be clean.

Brewer questioned whether the pier ordinance needed to be changed in an effort to ensure the waste oil is clean. After discussion, the selectmen determined that developing a clear policy that would be presented to fishermen at some point each year would be a good way to make sure that all the pier users are aware of the problem.

The selectmen also discussed the possibility of having Clean Harbors take over the collection of waste oil. They anticipated there might be an increase in the costs to the town, especially if the oil buckets contained anything but waste oil.

“We need something down there to collect oil,” Selectman John Robbins said. “If we have someone else do it, we may have to add a little to the cost of the fuel to cover that extra cost.”

Meanwhile, Billings reported that, following the resignations of several road crew members, she has put together a road crew that will plow and sand the roads in town this winter. She warned, however, that it has become harder and harder to find drivers and other town employees.

The four-member crew will be headed by Brian Billings who has plowed for the town on and off in the past. The other crew members are Sean Haskell, already a town employee, Matt Eaton and Patty Oliver. Town Manager Billings said that Brian Billings, who is her brother, is now getting the trucks ready for the winter. She added that the winter crew has been added to the regular payroll.

That sparked a conversation among selectmen who decided that Brian Billings and Haskell deserved a pay increase based on the additional work they are doing. The town manager abstained from the discussing the issue, but the selectmen agreed to increase Billings’ wage to $25 an hour and Haskell’s to $18. The other drivers start at $15.50 an hour, but Brewer suggested that once they have some training on the town roads, the selectmen would consider an increase for them as well. All drivers also get additional compensation for being on call.

Although the crew is set for this winter, the town manager cautioned selectmen that there could be problems in finding drivers to plow winter roads in the future. It is a demanding job, she said.

“It’s hard to find people to plow,” she said. “There’s long hours. It’s a big commitment, a big responsibility to continue to cover what happens with the roads down here.”

At the selectmen’s request, Billings has been researching the possibility of contracting out snow plowing in the future. They made no decision on the matter.