Continuity will be the catchword in Verona for the next three years after the township council approved a new contract for township engineer Jim Helb Monday night after a lengthy discussion.
In a 3-2 vote, the council locked in Helb to the job he’d held for more than 20 years before retiring in 2010.
Mayor Frank Sapienza, Deputy Mayor Bob Manley and councilman Jay Sniatkowski voted in favor of Helb, while councilmen Kevin Ryan and Michael Nochimson voted against the contract.
“When (Jim Helb) announced his retirement, I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to find someone with his experience and advanced licensing and credentials,” said Manley. “There is nobody alive that has his knowledge of this town’s infrastructure.”
Since his retirement, Helb has served as an engineering consultant, but he has been receiving his pension and benefits from the state.
The Township of Verona no longer pays for Helb's benefits which saves the town $50,000, said Manley.
According to Nochimson, Verona has two engineers, which costs about $200,000 a year for the two-and-a-half-square-mile town.
Verona is over-engineered, he said.
“I also was not a fan of the three-year contract, that is a lot of time in this economic environment,” Nochimson said in a phone interview later. “I think contracts have been mispriced and we can't afford $200,000 in engineering salaries each year.”
“Verona is too small of a town and we do not have a wallet to afford that,” he said. “The money just isn't there and we need to get costs under control.”
Helb's record speaks for itself, said Manley, who added the retired engineer brings in about $200,000 in grant money a year for the township.
“He was instrumental with the water tank that we bought from the county,” added Manley. “We bought it for a dollar and it saved about $750,000.”
Among Nochimson's and Ryan’s chief concerns was the town did not go out on a request for proposal (RFP), meaning they open the position up to other engineers for more competitive bidding.
“If you open this up, you are not required to go with the lowest bid so you could also go with Mr. Helb but it would make it more competitive, and its a completely transparent process,” he said.
Nochimson stressed his issue with Helb's contract is not a personal matter, calling the veteran engineer a “capable and knowledgeable person.”
“That's not the issue,” said Nochimson. “I thought the process should be more transparent and Verona just cannot afford the $200,000.”
Manley disagreed, saying, “I am absolutely confident I made the right decision and it was certainly within the law. When you look at his record and what he has done for this town its a no brainer.”