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Council calls for full-time streets director after billing mistake

For more than a year, City Councilwoman Bonnie Katz, and others on council, have expressed their concerns of having the same city employee working at two top-level administrative positions.

They were concerned about contract-related issues, billing problems and other issues requiring the full attentive detail of a general manager/director overseeing a department.

On Thursday night, a relatively minor $5,000 cost overage on a milling and paving job in the city and Loyalsock Township, turned into a cautionary tale for Mayor Derek Slaughter.

Katz asked Slaughter to ensure he fill the general managership vacancy at streets and parks department as quickly as possible.

“It proves we really need a streets and parks director to oversee all of these contracts that are coming through,” Katz said.

“It is not fair for somebody else to be holding our bills,” said Katz, referring to a reimbursement to the township of $21,472 for work done by Big Rock Paving on Fifth and Rural avenues in 2020.

Half of the street in the city was milled and paved as it was in the township portion on a project agreed to under a prior administration.

It was a small overage, considering the city’s $30 million budget, but, in the years of COVID-19, when every penny counts, with council increasing taxes by $50 this year on each tax bill, it was cited as a neglect.

“It’s one of those items that has fallen through the cracks,” Katz said. “I know it is not a lot of money; it’s $5,000, but every penny counts.”

“When you look at it from individual taxpayers’ it is a lot of money,” Council President Randall J. Allison said.

In reviewing the project costs, Councilman Adam Yoder, of the finance committee, said he noticed the discrepancy in the price for milling given to the city versus the township.

Slaughter placed Adam Winder as general manager of River Valley Transit and acting manager of streets and parks. William E. Nichols Jr. was general manager of River Valley Transit and finance director. Slaughter said Nichols was no longer a city employee a few days after taking the oath of office in January 2020

Winder acknowledged that he was to blame on the paving snafu.

“We failed to do a change-order for this project with Big Rock Paving,” Winder said. “Instead, the township paid it and we were invoiced in November. The blame comes back to me for not catching this.”

But council was not so upset with Winder as much as it was with the administration not filling the important post.

In response, Slaughter said the street repair was approved in 2019, not during his time as mayor. The mayor, instead, turned council’s attention to the new engineer as his go-to-guy on these kind of projects.

“Jon (Sander), city engineer, handles all of that now,” Slaughter said. “This was a previous administration. We don’t think this will happen at all.”

Slaughter also said previously an applicant was going to be hired as director of streets and parks but decided not to work for the city.

Slaughter also faced a similar mistake when a contractor on the East Third Street Old City Gateway project was owed $1 million and he was not aware of it, blaming the prior administration for the oversight and crediting Sander for discovering it late last year.

Nevertheless, Councilwoman Liz Miele, chair of the city finance committee, said of the management of public works, “Whoever succeeds him (Winder) in streets and parks will need to make certain we compare rates before we agree to participate with another municipality in a contract.”

“If we can’t recuperate the money it is a cautionary tale moving forward to make sure we are much more careful to make sure which contract we place money under,” Miele said.

“The idea of cooperating with municipalities to accomplish work in a timely and cost saving fashion is very valuable to us,” Miele said, summarizing a strategy moving ahead and urging a public works director be hired in short order.

She lauded the administration for looking at the joint ventures with municipalities, such as in street reconstruction, but cautioned there be a thorough review of contracts.

“If regionalizing projects points toward savings in the future contracts I think everyone on council would support it,” Miele said.

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