Shift of 8 State Workers Concerns Pollina

MONTPELIER — A state senator and the Vermont State Employees Association say they remain unconvinced that moving eight state employees from Barre to Montpelier is necessary.

 Article published Jul 12, 2015

By Neal P. Goswami

MONTPELIER — A state senator and the Vermont State Employees Association say they remain unconvinced that moving eight state employees from Barre to Montpelier is necessary.

Sen. Anthony Pollina, P-Washington, wrote to David Mears, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, late last month seeking answers about the move. Pollina said he received a response last week but he is still not satisfied.

The department is looking to move eight workers from the state-owned McFarland Office Building in Barre to leased space in the National Life building in Montpelier. The effort is part of a state government belt-tightening exercise Gov. Peter Shumlin sought to find labor savings and balance the 2016 fiscal year budget.

In his letter, Pollina asked Mears a series of questions about the impact of moving the eight employees, including the impact it would have on those seeking permits or services in Barre. He also raised questions about the effect on the Barre economy if those workers, and perhaps others in the future, are moved.

“I understand this decision will likely be justified as the result of legislated budget cuts,” Pollina wrote. “I remind you that the Vermont State Employees Association offered several ideas to raise revenue to avoid cutting services and I am sure they are willing to explore savings to avoid any dislocation of Barre workers and services.”

In his response, Mears said state officials decided “this was a responsible way to save costs while minimizing disruption to services” because the two locations are in close proximity to each other. 

“This consolidation brings workers into empty workstations in our offices at National Life in Montpelier, saving $56,000 in annual fee for space charges. There will be no additional costs related to utilities, parking, or security,” Mears wrote.

He also said there would be no impact on DEC’s ability to issue permits in a timely manner or to provide other services to the public. Deborah Markowitz, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, has no further plans “at this time” to move any of the remaining 21 workers from Barre to Montpelier, according to Mears.

The VSEA is not convinced, said President Shelley Martin.

“Like Sen. Pollina, the impacted DEC employees and VSEA continue to question management’s decision to move these workers from space in a state-owned building to leased space at National Life,” she said. “How exactly is this $56,000 savings being achieved?”

The impacted workers, and the union, “are committed to continuing to make their case to stay in Barre,” Martin said.

“They are actively gathering signatures on a petition to support the workers staying, they are writing letters to their legislators and they are reaching out to Barre’s mayor,” she said. “They also requested a face-to-face meeting with Secretary Markowitz, but she declined to meet with them on site in Barre, which was not helpful. I would add that employees are hearing from contractors that they are disappointed with this decision because they believe it will lead to delays in permitting.”

Pollina, meanwhile, said he plans to continue advocating for the workers. He said Mears’ response was “rather meager, considering the questions that we asked.”

“If we were given a strong rationale for moving then I’d feel differently,” he said. “We made a lot of noise abut moving people in Barre a couple of years ago. What I’m concerned about is if we quietly start moving people out of Barre it will have an impact on the merchants there.”