Paris street sweeper in use; controversy lingers

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PARIS — The town’s  street sweeper was put into operation Monday, but the controversy over spending $46,875 for it and how the decision was made may not be over. 

On Monday, Town Manager Phil Tarr said the check for the rebuilt Johnston J-3000 sweeper would be included in the warrants at the next selectmen’s meeting May 10. The board could vote to cancel it, he said, even though he signed the agreement with H.P. Fairfield for it after last week’s 3-1 vote and it’s now in use.

“Overall, this was a very good purchase for the town,” Tarr said. “It was a reasonable cost.”

He said the sweeper has 3,000 hours of use on it, with an estimated lifespan of 4,000 to 5,000 hours. He estimated that the town will be able to use the sweeper for another 15 years.

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Last week, residents and a selectman protested the decision to buy the machine, suggesting the money could have been put to better use elsewhere.

The money came from reimbursements by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for storm repairs.

Resident Kim Waite said the money could have been used to repair Oxford Street, which has significant travel because it bypasses traffic lights on Route 26.

“I just feel like $46,000 is a lot of money, and a lot of us travel Oxford Street all the time,” she said.

Resident Janet Jamison said that since the item was added to the special board meeting agenda, a section for citizens’ comments was not included.

“How are you going to fix this so it doesn’t happen again?” she asked. “The sweeper came up and yet no one could say anything.”

Chairman Raymond Glover said the board bylaws could be amended to allow citizens’ comments at special selectmen’s meetings, depending on the items being discussed.

The sweeper question was brought to the meeting after Selectman Jean Smart asked Lloyd “Skip” Herrick if he would reconsider his earlier vote against funding the purchase. That vote, on April 12, failed in a 2-2 tie.

Glover said he agreed to have the sweeper question on the agenda because he understood that the matter was an urgent one due to the availability of the used sweeper and safety concerns with the old sweeper. Glover said Frank Danforth, foreman of the Highway Department, was also planning on purchasing parts for the old sweeper due to the earlier vote and needed a decision on the matter.

Selectman Ted Kurtz, who voted against the purchase on both occasions, questioned last week whether the public had been sufficiently informed of the reconsideration.

He said Monday that Tarr had met with Town Manager Michael Chammings of Oxford to discuss having that town sweep the Paris streets, with a Paris employee using the town wood chipper to do work in Oxford in return.

“To spend $46,000 for a sweeper, when we could have had an agreement with the town of Oxford to sweep for nothing, I’m going to say that is insane,”  Kurtz said.

Tarr said he and Chammings had an impromptu meeting on the matter on April 12. However, he said the idea would have been impractical due to the question of whether the towns would indemnify one another for any injuries or damage, the need for adequate insurance, the loss of equipment availability in both towns, and the lack of a guiding policy on equipment exchange.

“You don’t go into another town with an understanding or an assumption that everything’s going to be done nicely with a handshake,” Tarr said.

Kurtz said Tarr should have brought up the considerations during the board discussions on the purchase. He also advocated that the town should actively seek equipment sharing to cut costs.

Tarr agreed that a meeting among Norway, Paris and Oxford officials on the issue could be beneficial.

mlangeveld@sunjournal.com

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