Disclaimer: What's below is my interpretation of the meeting and not an official communication from the RTM or from the Town of Westport.
The RTM did the following:
- Approved a $40,000 appropriation to purchase NOVAtime time and attendance software/hardware for use by regular and seasonal town employees,
- Approved Westport's participation in the Greater Bridgeport Regional Recycling Interlocal Agreement, which relates to the method and costs of disposing our town's recyclables, and
- Appointed Jeff Wieser as the alternative representative to the Western Connecticut Council of Governments.
AGENDA ITEM #1: A $40,000 appropriation to purchase NOVAtime time and attendance software/hardware for use by regular and seasonal town employees:
The RTM approved a $40,000 appropriation for the NOVAtime payroll system by a 33-1 vote. Currently, the hours for 200 regular and 350 seasonal town employees are recorded manually in different ways, depending on the department. Then, someone from each department manually inputs each employee's hours into the town's payroll system. The NOVAtime system will automate all payroll-related functions for these employees through its web-based system. Employees will be able to “clock in” and "clock out" with computers, smart phones, or "biometrics" like their handprint, and this information will feed automatically into the town's finance/payroll software. Collectively, this automation will save approximately 35 hours of town-employee work each week. Assuming that the number of Westport employees using the NOVAtime platform stays the same, the yearly cost for the NOVAtime services for the subsequent four years of the five-year contract would be $19,135.
Director of Human Resources Ralph Chetcuti explained the additional benefits of the NOVAtime system, which include the following:
- Cost savings from more accurate time recording: In addition to the 35 working hours per week currently spent on manual payroll entries, (as described above), the NOVAtime system is expected to save at least $100,000 each year by more accurately capturing employee working hours;
- Enhanced supervisory features and more accurate cost-center accounting: When employees log in with their smartphones, supervisors will be able to track where the employees are at any given time. This functionality is especially useful for seasonal employees that work different jobs because their time must be accounted for in different cost centers;
- More efficient and defensible responses to regulatory and legal inquiries: NOVAtime can instantly provide the information and documentation required to defend the town in any Department of Labor audits or lawsuits. The town has paid costly settlements in the past due to errors and gaps in documentation, which seem somewhat inevitable in a system relying on both manual recording and manual entries;
- Potential for larger future synergies and cost savings: NOVAtime is compatible with the accounting platform used by the Board of Education ("BOE"), and the contract with NOVAtime will include a right to renegotiate the fees under the contract to a lower rate if the BOE chooses to adopt the payroll system. Unfortunately, it was not feasible to take advantage of this potential cost-savings opportunity right away. The BOE needs to do its own due diligence before adopting an automated payroll platform like NOVAtime while, according to the Town's auditors, it would be prudent for the town to implement a system like NOVAtime as soon as possible and, ideally, prior to adding summer employees; and
- Real-time reports on employees' locations and vacation/sick days: With the NOVAtime system, supervisors will get immediate notifications if there is an unexpected personnel shortage. Employees will have access to accurate vacation and sick day balances in real time and can request time off through the system. And, in the event of an emergency, the police and firefighters will have more information regarding whether employees are in an unsafe area.
Town employees in the Fire and Police Departments will continue to use their own systems. According to Mr. Chetcuti, these departments need different systems than other town employees because they staff employees and account for hours in a different way.
The Westport News article regarding the meeting is here and the WestportNow.com article regarding this agenda item is here, though note that the vote was not unanimous as reported in the articles. Jack Klinge, an RTM member from district seven, asked if the payroll system would be able to replace an employee. When Mr. Chetcuti did not have an answer. Mr. Klinge explained that, based on what he had heard, "I don't see a great sense of urgency to do this right now" and that he was inclined to wait a few more months to see if the Board of Education could adopt the system as well.
Mr. Klinge made a very good point and I was inclined to delay the vote or vote no when first considering the NOVAtime proposal as well.
I can't speak for any other RTM members, but I ultimately voted in favor of the appropriation because:
- Mr. Chetcuti repeatedly assured us at the RTM Finance Committee meeting that the NOVAtime contract will explicitly give the town the right to renegotiate for a lower fee if the Board of Education adopts NOVAtime;
- It is my understanding that the auditor recommended the adoption of a system like NOVAtime as soon as possible (this point was made more clearly at the Board of Finance meeting regarding the same appropriation); and
- As Mr. Chetcuti explained, the town has not been able to adequately defend itself in prior audits/lawsuits under the current system, which is troubling given that one lawsuit or fine could cost more than the entire yearly appropriation for the NOVAtime platform.
AGENDA ITEM #2: Whether to sign the Greater Bridgeport Regional Recycling Interlocal Agreement, which relates to the method and costs of disposing our town’s recyclables.
In 1989, Westport entered into a similar interlocal recycling agreement, which will expire this year. As compared to this agreement, the new draft agreement does not include a minimum population requirement. According to Steve Edwards, former Director of Public Works, the partnering towns did not want current interlocal members or potential members to be automatically disqualified if their population falls below the 400,000 resident threshold.
Mr. Edwards explained the financial benefits of the interlocal agreement, which include:
- Lower intermediary fees: participating towns do not pay intermediary fees to the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority.
- Better returns on recyclables: The interlocal has a favorable, single stream recycling contract with a provider in Shelton, through Westport receives $20 per ton of single-stream (not separated) recyclable materials. According to Mr. Edwards, this rate is above the current market. This $20 is in addition to the corresponding tons of recyclables taken out of the solid waste stream, which would cost $85 per ton to dispose. The net effect for the past year has been $365,000 in "savings."
Some potential downsides to the contract are that (1) Westport's ability to withdraw early is limited if the withdrawl would cause the interlocal to breach an existing contract with a third party, and (2) while part of the interlocal, Westport is bound by the contracts executed by the interlocal's decision-making committee. Mr. Edwards explained that, with respect to the former concern, Westport could still withdraw if it finds another town to take its place or at the conclusion of the contract with the third party. With respect to the latter concern, Westport is part of the decision-making committee, and committee votes are weighted based on a town's quantity of recyclables.
The other participating towns listed in the draft agreement are Bridgeport, East Haven, Easton, Fairfield, Milford, Monroe, Orange, Stratford, and Woodbridge. According to Mr. Edwards, the goal is to have all participating parties execute the contract in the next couple months so that the interlocal can extend the term of the contract providing $20 per ton for recyclables.
AGENDA ITEM #3: Whether to appoint Jeff Wieser as the alternative representative to the Western Connecticut Council of Governments:
The RTM appointed Jeff Wieser as Westport's alternative representative for the Western Connecticut Council of Governments ("WESTcog") by a unanimous, 33-0 vote.
First Selectman Jim Marpe provided some background information regarding WESTcog, which is a regional council for local governments. WESTcog provides chief municipal officers a forum to meet, communicate, and collaborate in addressing inter-municipal issues and needs. Examples of such issues include regional transportation planning, economic development, land-use coordination, environmental concerns, and disaster relief planning. Among other things, the regional council also helps facilitate regional purchasing agreements to take advantage of economies of scale.
The other towns in WESTcog are Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, Danbury, Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Sherman, Stamford, Weston, and Wilton.
As provided in the Westport Code of Ordinances, the First Selectman represents our town in WESTcog and the RTM appoints an alternate representative from its members. During the prior two-year term, the RTM appointed Eileen Flug, who was then the moderator of the RTM. Current RTM moderator Velma Heller did not want to be nominated for the position because her teaching schedule conflicts with the WESTcog meetings.
Explaining that Deputy Moderator Jeff Wieser's broad perspective and skill set make him an obvious choice for the role, First Selectman Marpe encouraged the RTM to appoint Mr. Wieser.
In complimenting First Selectman Marpe, Mr. Wieser joked that he is perfectly capable of fulfilling the position of alternate representative given that, like everything else in town, Jim Marpe never misses the WESTcog meetings.
Disclaimer: This post has been my interpretation of the meeting and not an official communication from the RTM. You can view the official recording of the entire meeting here.