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By CLAIRE BESSETTE
Day Staff Writer
Norwich — Public Works Director Barry Ellison showed the City Council Monday a budget summary page highlighting the only three departments that would be cut in the proposed 2013-14 budget – city debt service, the council's own budget and the Public Works budget.
Ellison presented his budget request to the council Monday during a workshop session, summarizing how his department has refurbished discarded police vehicles for reuse, trades and borrows equipment with Norwich Public Utilities and increasingly takes on projects in house rather than hiring contractors. He then asked that $170,000 be added to his budget.
That money would fund a new engineering technician to work on $11 million in major bridge and road work projects under way and two full-year laborer positions. The budget includes only one new laborer position to start half-way through the budget year.
The added staff also would allow the department to improve social media communication with Twitter and Facebook alerts on road problems or construction detours.
The Public Works budget this year totals $9,778,000, and Ellison requested $10,021,000. But City Manager Alan Bergren's proposed budget called for reducing the Public Works budget to $9,721,000, lower than this year's total. Ellison said at the same time, the department has more property to maintain, including the new Norwich Transportation Center and the former Greeneville and Buckingham school properties and a growing number of tax foreclosed blighted properties.
In addition, the department is increasingly called on to support local events. He said crews clean the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park prior to festivals and concerts, erect signs and barriers to close the boat launch and helps with events such as walkathons, street festivals and parades.
Peter Davis, director of planning and development, told the council that his combined planning, zoning and building departments has lost 30 percent of its staffing over the past three years in budget cuts.
While the economy has slowed activity, Davis said the number of building permits has remained steady at about 1,700 per year. Two major projects – renovations to the Norwichtown Commons and the Marina at American Wharf – have boosted permit revenues. But Davis said he is pleased that the number of permits for homeowners and smaller businesses making improvements to existing properties has remained stable. He estimated permit fee revenue at $500,000.
Davis did not ask for added staffing for his department, but supported the Public Works Department request. Davis echoed Ellison's expressed concern about the growing blight problem in the city due to the poor economy. The city's blight enforcement officer, Edward Martin, has worked with Public Works on securing abandoned properties and cutting grass.
"If the trend continues, and you all see it driving around the city, we're not going to be able to effectively handle it if (Ellison) doesn't have the staff," Davis told the City Council. "The visual condition of the city needs to be a priority."