County engineer little used in some towns
Despite contributing an equal percentage of their local assessments to the county engineering budget, not all towns use the department's services. Chilmark has not used the county engineer's services for the past four years, while Aquinnah has only used six and a half hours this fiscal year.
Yearly assessments taken from the six Island towns and Gosnold make up 40 percent of the total county budget. Each town is assessed a different amount, with Edgartown paying the most, at $252,801, down to Aquinnah, which paid $28,039.
The engineering department's salary is taken out of the total county budget, explained Jennifer Caton, county administrative assistant. Therefore, it is safe to say that 40 percent of the county engineer's budget is paid by the towns.
The engineering department was budgeted for $74,850 for fiscal year 2006, $70,500 of which was for county engineer Stephen Berlucchi's salary. Forty percent of that was paid by the town's assessment - which works out to approximately $20 per hour - and the rest is covered by Mr. Berlucchi's $35 per hour fee. In total, when a town utilizes Mr. Berlucchi's services, it is billed $55 per hour.
Ms. Caton explained that only 80 percent of Mr. Berlucchi's time is spent on town projects, and the other 20 percent on county projects, such as work at the Dukes County House of Correction, Lagoon Bridge reconstruction, or other projects that cannot fairly be assessed to only one town.
Under his contract, Mr. Berlucchi is allowed to work a total of 1,369 hours per year; 1,083 of those hours are reserved for the towns to request services.
Each of the six towns receives a certain amount of the county engineer's hours that they can utilize, based on their assessment amount.
For fiscal year 2006, which began on July 1, Edgartown gets 344 hours; Chilmark 202; Tisbury, West Tisbury and Oak Bluffs 165; and Aquinnah 42.
As of this week, Edgartown had used 84 hours; Tisbury 40.5; West Tisbury 53.5; Oak Bluffs 39.4; Aquinnah 6.5; and Chilmark has used none.
Mr. Davis said the towns always use all of their allotted hours for engineering projects, but Chilmark executive secretary Tim Carroll said the town has not used the county engineer's services for the past four years, despite contributing to his salary through their assessment each year.
Aquinnah town administrator Jeff Burgoyne said they have just recently started to utilize Mr. Berlucchi's services, with the repair project for the stairs along the Gay Head Cliffs.
"He has been very helpful to us," Mr. Burgoyne said. "Going forward from this point we would continue to use his services which we find to be very helpful."
A blow to taxpayers
Mr. Berlucchi is a retired state employee, and in order to preserve his state pension he must not exceed a set amount of hours as dictated by the state retirement board. Dukes County manager Winn Davis said they want to make sure Mr. Berlucchi doesn't jeopardize that pension plan, by working for the county.
Mr. Davis explained that the retirement board limits Mr. Berlucchi - formerly a highway engineer - to making no more than 50 percent of the salary he received from the state. In order to be in compliance, Mr. Berlucchi can work no more than 1,369 hours for another state agency, in this case, the county. Mr. Berlucchi has worked for the county for six years.
"This is to protect the taxpayers from letting somebody retire and come back and get their same salary again, I guess they call it double dipping," Mr. Davis said. "So he has to have actual employment with other people in order preserve his retirement. And we don't want to see him jeopardize that."
Due to his restricted hours with the county, Mr. Berlucchi signs on to other projects using his private company, Baseline Engineering. Most recently, Mr. Berlucchi was hired by the Oak Bluffs planning board - through Baseline Engineering - at a rate of $75 per hour to serve as inspector during the construction of Corey Kupersmith's luxury housing development.
Mr. Davis said it was arranged this way so that Mr. Berlucchi would not exceed his allotted hours with the county.
"In order to preserve his retirement income and not jeopardize himself, he has to seek employment from more than one government agency," Mr. Davis said. "The towns ask him to do things and he does them. Obviously Oak Bluffs felt this was something that was beyond the scope of county work and they asked him to do that."