Amsterdam city engineer’s job may be eliminated

City officials are considering eliminating the position of city engineer.

City officials are considering eliminating the position of city engineer.

According to Ray Halgas, acting city engineer and supervisor of the Department of Public Works, the city engineer spends 10 percent of the day doing engineering activities and 90 percent of the day taking care of various other responsibilities, including overseeing DPW, the sanitary sewer and water departments and the housing and codes office.

“He does everything other than engineering,” Halgas said. “These people come in with engineering backgrounds, and what they really need is a general construction or municipal background.”

The city charter requires that a state licensed engineer be on staff. Halgas recommended that the city change its charter and allow officials to contract for its engineering services.

Halgas said the city doesn’t have enough money to hire the staff or purchase the equipment that a city engineer requires. The city Engineering Department only has an aide and two other employees who handle paperwork. For the department to run effectively, Halgas said, it would need a person to create blueprints, do surveying and authorize paperwork. By contracting out for engineering services, the city is guaranteed to tap a company with the necessary staff, Halgas said.

The city doesn’t have enough projects to require a city engineer, either, Halgas said. At one time, when the city had room to grow the city engineer was responsible for creating roads to spur neighborhood development. That type of work generated income for the city making the engineer’s position useful. Halgas said there isn’t space for that type of investment anymore.

The projects the city is currently working on are too large for a city engineer to handle and will most likely be contracted out anyway, Halgas said.

Also, a contractor would come with its own insurance policy. For example, if the engineer designs a bridge that collapses, the contractor would be responsible for the damages. Halgas said the city is responsible for insuring the city engineer in the event of a similar scenario.

A Montgomery County committee looking at ways to jointly offer municipal services discussed the possibility of sharing engineering services with the city.

According to Vito “Butch” Greco, Montgomery County Board of Supervisors chairman, the county has been satisfied with its arrangement of contracting for its engineering services. Another local city, Gloversville, does not have a city engineer and contracts out for its services along with other municipalities in the region.

The city of Schenectady does have a city engineer on its staff. Bernie Sisson said he makes about $80,000 per year and currently has a staff of four people but said the department is funded for six.

Sisson said the Engineering Department in Schenectady is responsible for storm sewer, sanitary sewer and paving projects along with overseeing the Water Department and managing intergovernmental contracts such as the city’s water contract with Niskayuna and sewage contracts with other towns.

At the end of last year, Amsterdam City Engineer Mike Clark resigned from the position to take a job with the Hudson River Black River Regulating District. Halgas said Clark was the city’s third engineer since 1996.

The Common Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday to hire McDonald Engineering of Schenectady for any necessary engineering services at a rate not to exceed $1,500 per month.

Mayor Ann Thane said the position of city engineer is something that should be analyzed to determine whether money could be saved by eliminating the position. Currently the city is advertising to fill the position. Thane said the position is budgeted for about $60,000 in 2008.

Categories: Schenectady County

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