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For the first time in many years, if ever, the leaders of Newtown’s municipal government and school district came together requesting the Board of Finance add funds to their collective budget request, which while increasing likely taxpayer impact, was promoted as an investment with potential to reap measurably greater returns.
Following individual presentations by First Selectman Pat Llodra and Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, the two leaders reconvened at the presentation table in the Municipal Center council chambers together to request the finance board weigh recommending the town underwrite a purchasing agent position.
During their presentation, Mrs Llodra explained that the proposed purchasing agent would be responsible for the acquisition of supplies, services, and construction in support of the operations of the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education.
If the purchasing agent position is created, its credentialed professional would be authorized to issue Invitations to Bid and Requests for Proposal (RFPs), purchase orders, develop term contracts, and acquire supplies and services. The purchasing agent will also dispose of all municipal surplus town property and equipment.
The purchasing agent would also serve as the liaison between the Public Building and Site Commission and the Boards of Selectmen and Education. The officials created a compensation and office package that would be split equally between the Board of Selectmen and Education budgets totaling $98,253 — $49,126 each.
The position would provide a salary of $85,000 salary, and include a $6,503 Social Security and $4,250 defined contribution benefit, $1,500 for dues, travel, and educational expenses, and $1,000 for supplies.
A Shared Services Initiative
Mrs Llodra and Dr Erardi introduced the proposal saying it was a logical next step as both the town and school district seek to further an already successful shared services initiative as a taxpayer savings measure.
“There’s been discussion since 2006 to explore sharing school and town services to achieve greater efficiencies and maybe some cost savings,” Mrs Llodra said. “A purchasing agent was identified then and discussed occasionally.”
She said some time ago, the Legislative Council directed an effort to explore sharing services across a variety of domains.
“Joe and I identified this as an area you would perhaps consider meritorious,” the first selectman told the finance board.
She said both the boards of education and selectmen support the idea, but decided to keep the proposal “outside our budget documents.”
“If it has merit, it must be added at your Board of Finance level,” Mrs Llodra explained.
She told finance officials that on the town side, most purchasing is being done by department heads, sometimes with consultations, other times not.
“There is a body of knowledge around purchasing that the municipality does not posses,” Mrs Llodra said. “We have always sensed we could do a little better with a professional agent.”
Dr. Erardi said he had a lengthy conversation with a sub-group of council and key district personnel over the idea. He said the central questions to be determined were whether the town could expect to save by better purchasing practices, and whether it would be a “full-time, part-time, or another time” position.
Dr. Erardi said school business manager Ron Bienkoski and Town Finance Director Robert Tait could sufficiently handle purchasing duties, but they had no time.
In another district, he had a purchasing agent, calling the professional a “one stop shop,” and an individual with “big responsibility over a lot of contracts,” adding that the purchasing agent “possibly helped avoid litigation.”
“We are confident we can bring on this function and make it work across the municipality,” Mrs Llodra said, requesting the finance board’s affirmation that it is “probably a good idea.”
Finance board member Aaron Carlson asked if the officials thought there was an opportunity to justify the expense by bringing on a dedicated and credentialed purchasing professional.
Mrs Llodra replied saying the investment generates returns, but she “can’t draw a straight line,” saying “it is like investing in a grant writer — it’s hard to establish concrete evidence when such a professional is ‘walking through the door’ for the first time.”
Dr Erardi asked the finance board to permit the officials to “come back after meeting one more time,” armed with significantly more backup details to answer and deep dive questions the board might have.
Finance Board Chairman John Godin asked Mrs Llodra and Dr Erardi to “classify what is in scope and what is out of scope” regarding things like the individual’s involvement with labor contracts, transportation, insurance, and other administrative functions.
In closing, the first selectman added that by bringing in a purchasing agent at this time, the town could immediately expose it self to “high level engagement in purchasing councils and consortia at the state and Councils of Governments (COG) levels that we can’t devote enough time to with existing personnel.”
“There are some we are not involved in,” Mrs Llodra said, “because we don’t have credentialed personnel to do that work.”