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Vienna's Tempest in a Refrigerator

Town is set to resume 'white goods' pickup, via outsourcing.

White goods are things like refrigerators, air conditioners, washers, dryers and about nine other appliances. The Town of Vienna had typically picked up these items from residents homes for disposal as one of the extra services the town provides to its residents.

During last year's budget, the town decided that as of Jan. 1, 2005, it would no longer pick up white goods. The dollar cost for the service is minimal, estimated at $4,000 per year, but the opportunity cost is much higher. "It's not the cost, it's the time that's killing us," said Dennis King, director of the Department of Public Works for the town at a Jan. 10 Town Council worksession.

While town workers are toting white goods from residents' homes to the northside storage yard — where the items are stored prior to disposal — they are not filling potholes, or performing other duties.

The council debated the relative merits of the program. Councilmember Sydney Verinder noted that the payroll hours were figured into the calculation $91.18 for the cost of disposing of one white good with CFCs [Chlorofluorocarbons]— a substance used as a coolant in some appliances, which is hazardous to the environment.

Even at that rate, the town would only pay $4,000 per year, an insignificant amount of the total town budget of just under $17 million. "I'll write half of that check myself," Verinder said.

Town Manager John Schoeberlein pointed out a different option. "In the long run, it's going to be cheaper for us to just hire a private contractor," he said.

The council decided to do just that. Schoeberlein will find a few haulers who will cart the white goods away at a cost of $25 per white good or $35 per good with CFCs.

Residents will call the town, and the town will arrange to have the hauler pick up the goods and then pay for it. The pick up will count as one of the two free "special pick-ups" that residents are permitted per year.

It will likely take the town a couple of months to find appropriate haulers and negotiate a contract for the disposal. The contract will then have to come before the council for approval.

The pick-up will continue on a trial basis, likely through the end of the calendar year, then the council will revisit the issue to see if it is actually the most cost-effective option.

THE COUNCIL also heard a request to create a new position of network administrator for the Vienna Police Department. "We've done a lot with technology in the past year," said Robert Carlisle, chief of police for the town. "As we bring these tech projects on board, we have to have a network administrator assigned to it."

The police department is in the midst of adopting several new technologies that are designed to allow them to better respond to emergencies.

Currently, a uniformed police sergeant is acting as the network administrator for the department. That sergeant is approaching retirement age, and then the department would have to move a new officer into that position if the status quo is maintained.

Ideally, Carlisle said, the department could get that sergeant back doing police work and supervising junior police officers.

Councilmember George Lovelace at first balked at the cost — Carlisle expects to pay the new employee $43,939 per year. If the position was created, the police would be the only town department with its own dedicated Information Technology staff member. The town currently has two employees and an intern who serve all the various departments. "Your department won't be the only one to come up with a request for an IT professional," Lovelace said.

Carlisle said that the police work is different from most other services the town provides, since if the police make a mistake, residents' lives are at stake. "The criticality of the task is so high," he said.

Councilmember Laurie Cole noted that having the police sergeant back doing police work would almost be like getting a new employee, and that the complexity of the new systems seems to demand a dedicated staff member. "None of these things ever runs smoothly. Loading Quicken at home never runs smoothly," she said. "This is just the way these things are going."

The final decision will have to be made during a regular council meeting, but based on the discussion at the worksession, approval seems likely.

The council also heard a mid-year budget report. The town Finance Department estimated that by the end of the fiscal year, the town will have a surplus of approximately $411,000.