Do Paterson's roads need more speed bumps? Are the city's trees being cared for? Are street sweepers kicking up too much dust?
These were some of the questions that arose when the Paterson City Council conducted its hearing on the Public Works department budget on Monday, September 27.
They might not seem like issues of high finance, especially in a city facing a budget shortfall of more than $70 million, but Councilman Kenneth Morris pointed out that the operations of the public works department are important to "the quality of life" for city residents.
"I've seen mayoral administrations fall because of snow plowing,'' Morris said during the hearing.
The public works department's proposed budget for 2011 is $16.4 million, compared to $15.2 million in 2010. During the hearing, the council didn't propose any major changes in the budget, but instead used the review to take a microscope to the department's operations.
One item that caught officials' attention was an increase in the street's division's overtime, which would jump from $225,000 in 2010 to $477,000 in 2011.
"Unmanaged overtime has always been a problem in any organization,'' said Councilman William McKoy. "It doubled because we're not watching it as it goes.''
Public works officials told the council that clean-up work after last April's massive flooding was primarily responsible for the increase in overtime. Other factors, officials said, were snow removal, cleaning up after parades and festivals on weekends and responding to emergency calls, such as disposing of dead animals.
Council members asked finance officials to provide a detailed breakdown on the overtime spending.
Here are some of the other highlights from the DPW hearing:
* Council President Aslon Goow said too many city streets "are becoming speedways" and he said the city should look into installing speed bumps on residential streets where there are problems.
* Goow also criticized the city's tree maintenance. "They're dying, they're diseased, they're consumed,'' he said. The council president said the issue should be addressed by the public works subcommittee.
* The city's recreation director's job remains vacant. Council members said the administration should make sure the new director's salary accurately reflects the job's duties, and isn't set too high, especially since many recreation programs are handled by the board of education.
* The city only recycles 8 percent of its garbage, a rate that officials acknowledged compares poorly with other municipalities around the state. McKoy pointed out that the city is losing money from state recycling grants when resident throw items like bottles and cans in with their regular trash.
* Goow urged public works officials to do a better job with their street-cleaning trucks. He said they are moving too fast through some neighborhoods, and are kicking up too much dust because they don't wet the pavement enough when they drive through.
The council has held hearings on every department's budget. The public hearing on the entire budget is scheduled for December 7.