Our Opinion: Explore options for city engineer

Pittsfield is in need of a city engineer — or at least someone to fulfill city engineering duties. Given the financial realities all Berkshire communities face, exploring alternative ways to meet community responsibilities has become a necessity.

City engineer Matt Billeter left in January after 16 years and now does facilities management for Berkshire Health Systems (Eagle, October 24). His departure has added to the backlog of road improvement projects, to the frustration of city councilors and their constituents. Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy has interviewed several candidates but has found that the $70,000-$75,000 salary isn't enough to persuade a well-qualified candidate to take the job given its considerable demands. The job description is formidable and the education and experience required are substantial.

Mr. Billeter has said he left the job largely because of low City Hall morale add his weariness with "dealing with egos," adding that the salary was "unrealistic." Dealing with egos may come with any job involving politics, and if City Hall morale is low that has to be a concern for Mayor Tyer. Addressing the salary dilemma should be a little easier.

A number of municipal engineers told The Eagle that the position's salary should be no lower than $80,000. If Mr. Turocy can find a strong candidate who is ideally willing to stay on the job for several years, finding that extra $5,000-$10,000 might be worth it. Ward 4 City Councilor Chris Connell suggests hiring from the private sector when needed rather than employ a permanent city engineer. An analysis of the number of hours in which the city needs engineering services along with an assessment of the going hourly rates for private engineers would be valuable in assessing this route. Small Berkshire towns are increasingly sharing some Town Hall positions to cut down on spending, and while the county's largest city doesn't have an obvious match, perhaps the city could allow small nearby towns to make use of the city engineer's service when needed in exchange for a fee that would bridge the modest salary gap between what the city offers and what candidates expect to receive.

On a related issue, City Council President Peter Marchetti said the Council must address a procedural shortcoming in which councilors have been submitting recommendations from the Traffic Commission without the traffic orders that make those recommendations legal to carry out. Somewhere along the line that stopped happening, creating what Mr. Connell described as an "abyss" that otherwise approved projects have disappeared into, again to the frustration of residents. That, at least, would seem to be a pretty easy fix — include the legal paperwork along with the recommendations as was done in the past — as compared to the really knotty problems posed by needed roadwork, and perhaps morale issues and egos, that confront the city.


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