Duman: Program at ‘snail’s pace’

Published 9:20 pm Monday, September 14, 2015

Frustration over the pace of the progress on an energy-saving program was the main topic of conversation at Monday’s meeting of the City School Advisory Committee on Collaborative Fiscal Concerns.

“It’s been 10 months,” Councilman Mike Duman said, noting the committee first discussed the topic on Nov. 21. “It shouldn’t be this difficult to implement a process that has no fees attached to it.”

The energy performance contracting program is a state program that allows government entities to contract with one of several state-approved providers to perform energy-saving capital improvements. The contractors guarantee the energy savings will pay for the loans used to pay for the improvements. If that doesn’t happen, the contractor strokes a check for the difference.

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The committee, which includes two City Council members and two School Board members, has supported the program. But a delay ensued when Judith Brooks-Buck, a School Board member who also chairs the committee, insisted the full School Board be given an opportunity to vote on the program. That didn’t happen until May.

“Why is it now September and we’re still talking about moving forward?” Duman said in Monday’s meeting. The program is moving at a “snail’s pace,” he added.

Duman said he had hoped to start the program in time to see cost savings in the 2016-17 fiscal year budget. Not only is that now not possible, he said, but also getting the program done in time for the 2017-18 fiscal year might be in jeopardy.

“It can’t happen in the next budget process because we drug our feet,” he said.

Brooks-Buck said Monday the school system was waiting for the city to take the lead on the project. She also said an accusation by Duman that city and school staff have not been communicating isn’t true.

“If they don’t start the process collaboratively, they’re going to have a hard time ending the process collaboratively,” Duman said.

Interim city manager Patrick Roberts said Gerry Jones, the city’s director of capital programs, has been working on the project. Roberts also said he has been communicating with the school superintendent.

“I don’t believe that we’ve dragged our feet,” School Board member Linda Bouchard said. “I do believe we go about this at a different pace.”

Councilman Tim Johnson sought to look on the positive side.

“We have done our job as a committee,” he said, noting the process is still moving forward, even if it’s not as quickly as some would like.

In other business, Duman made a motion to send a request to the school system that one of their staff attends meetings of the committee. He said at least three city staff members have been at every meeting, but few of those meetings have included even one staff member from Suffolk Public Schools.

“I don’t think it sends the right message,” he said.

But Brooks-Buck objected to the committee telling staff what to do. The motion passed 3-1.