Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Proposed Outsourcing Questioned

A city budget meeting Tuesday revealed a rift between Planning Director Bill Nierstedt and his boss, Jennifer Wenson Maier, who is in charge of Public Works & Urban Development.

Nierstedt disputed Wenson Maier’s claim that the work of a principal planner in City Hall could be done at no extra cost by the planning and engineering firm of Remington & Vernick, which already has several city contracts. Nierstedt said the planner’s $30,000 salary represents an hourly rate of $35, while the outside firm charges $138 per hour. The Planning Division has been understaffed for years, he said, and layoff of the principal planner would only make it worse.

Nierstedt gave numerous examples of how the $30,000 cost could be made up, such as by increasing fees for in-house planning services. He began to question some of Wenson Maier’s stated facts, but City Administrator Marc Dashield stopped him.

Wenson Maier had given the City Council a long list of planning tasks that she said could easily be taken over by Remington & Vernick. She said hourly rates could range from up to $140 for a principal in the firm to $90 for a licensed person. Wenson Maier said she is a licensed architect and could even do certain things herself.

Councilman Cory Storch noted the city previously went from outsourcing to in-house staff and asked how efficient the proposed plan would be. Councilman Rashid Burney also asked how the firm could take on extra tasks on the same budget and said as a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, he is aware of the strain on the Planning Division.

The four-member staff serves the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Historic Preservation Commission. Nierstedt said he was also named zoning officer last year, a title formerly held by the late Jocelyn Pringley. The outsourcing proposal comes at a time when the city has almost 20 redevelopment projects in the works.

The other position targeted for layoff is that of Wenson Maier’s assistant director.

Last year, the administration hired Nagy Sileem of Hillside as assistant director at $82,000 when there was already an assistant director earning about $90,000. While employed in Plainfield, Sileem was also listed as the construction official for Irvington on the Department of Community Affairs’ official roster.

--Bernice Paglia


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