Town undergoing administrative restructuring

By John Gardner
The Surveyor

After reorganizing the Berthoud Police Department and transitioning serviced to the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, the Town of Berthoud is now taking aim at its own administrative structure and doing a little restructuring as well.

The town let go two employees last week, has had one resign, another planning on retiring at the end of the month, and is looking to restructure the departments of finance, public works and utilities, water and wastewater, building and planning, and business development. The town is also considering hiring a public information officer to help relations between the town, its residents, and news outlets.

In a lengthy memo from town administrator Mike Hart to the Berthoud Board of Trustees and to the Surveyor, Hart explained the reorganization as necessary to make the town operate more efficiently.

Starting last Thursday, the town let go two employees; town planner Tim Katers, and wastewater operations superintendent Robert Airhart. The town has hired a planning consultant, Sherry Albertson Clark, to replace Katers in the interim, and the current utilities manager, James Taylor, will now oversee both wastewater and water operations, according to Hart.

Regarding the Planning and Building Department Hart stated that Berthoud has, for a number of years, retained the services of a contract planner up until last year when the cost of contracting out the planning services was budgeted to exceed what the cost of staffing the position would be. In 2013, Hart explained, the town hired Katers as the town’s principal planner on a full-time basis.

“But we did not re-create a department of planning and building, and or re-staff it with a supervisor,” Hart stated in the memo. “We have tried to make that situation work over this last year, however the effort has fallen short of what the organization’s true needs are, so we are now realigning the organization to create a position for a director of Development Services.”

Clark, will start on Monday, July 7 on an “as needed” basis and will be paid the equivalent of the “loaded” hourly rate of a principal planner, however, she may not work 40 hours per week, Hart clarified. Clark will also help organize the town’s Building and Planning Department and assist with advertising and filling the permanent position, according to Hart.

Katers said that he was informed on June 26 that his employment had been terminated, effective that day.

“My understanding was that the decision was made due to a departmental reorganization,” Katers said in an email response to the Surveyor.

“It was an honor and a privilege to work for the citizens of Berthoud for nearly six years and an experience I will long cherish,” Katers said. “It’s a great community and I hope my efforts there helped move it forward in some small way.”

Hart explained the planning department reorganization like this: “Over a period of 10 years or more Berthoud’s building and development activities became somewhat sedimentary, and as a result various supervisory and nonessential positions were eliminated one by one causing our management structure to become slowly flattened out over time.”

The town is also restructuring its Public Works Department, which Hart described as “does not exist as a department at the current time.”

Current town engineer, and previous Public Works director, Stephanie Brothers, will once again serve in that capacity, according to Hart. This move is necessary because Hart has overseen the water, wastewater, and streets divisions because those departments had no supervisory positions. The Utilities and Streets Departments will now report directly to Brothers, not to Hart which has been the practice over the past few years.

The town’s accounting technician, Faith Smith, has resigned her position and has taken a position with the City of Fort Collins, according to Hart. However, Smith’s leaving wasn’t a consequence of the reorganization. Nonetheless, the Finance Department will also undergo a serious reorganization.

“Finance is another area that has always been essentially decentralized, apparently in an effort to reduce staffing costs,” Hart wrote.

According to Hart, Town Clerk Mary Cowdin has operated as the town’s finance manager, the town’s receptionist performed the duties of payroll and payables clerk, and Smith was the town’s accountant. But, the reorganization aims to take these responsibilities under one umbrella, so to speak, and will be the responsibility of a newly created finance director position.

“Essentially, Berthoud has never had a finance and accounting department, and the town clerk was also saddled with the responsibility of supervising our utility billing and meter reading function,” Hart wrote.

All of these functions will now fall under the accounting department, and will no longer be a shared responsibility of three town employees, Hart stated.

In the interim, the town is negotiating with an unnamed individual to act as a finance director.

“We have met with a finance director that has recently retired from another community and this individual has a keen interest in working with us on a contract basis to accomplish our goals in the area of finance and accounting,” Hart wrote.

The financial consultant will be paid on a set hourly rate, on an as-needed basis, Hart said. They will assist with this year’s budget process and will help in restructuring the accounting system per auditors’ recommendations.

As well, the town’s business development manager, Ron Schneider, will leave at the end of July, and his position may not be refilled, according to Hart.

“We are also rethinking our economic development activities and the dollars we have committed to this aspect of our operations,” Hart wrote.

Hart explained that he has some ideas about how the town may handle the responsibilities of this position without hiring another full-time employee. Those include delegating Schneider’s responsibilities to several town employees and also collaborating with outside entities such as the Berthoud Area Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corporation.

In addition, the town is also considering hiring a public information officer due to the police department scandal last year and “all of the consequent attention we were getting from the news organizations at the time,” Hart stated in the memo.

The town hopes to attract the services of a graduate student from the University of Colorado-Denver, in an attempt at getting the services of little to no cost to the town.

“This approach was used by another community in our region, and according to Attorney Bell, it was a very successful endeavor for all parties,” Hart stated in the memo.