Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon council orders conservation - or else?

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
March 5, 2008

VERNON - Town staffers are now expected to reduce fuel consumption by 10 percent over the next year or face disciplinary action - up to termination - under a new policy adopted by the Town Council on Tuesday.

In February Mayor Jason L. McCoy asked all department heads to come up with suggestions on how the town could reduce its skyrocketing energy bills.

Gasoline and diesel costs alone have more than quadrupled for some departments in recent years, particularly for public works, police, parks, maintenance, fire, and ambulance.

According to town figures, in 2003 the public works department spent $6,264 to gas up its vehicles, but by 2007 that cost soared to $29,031.

Gasoline for police cruisers, meanwhile, cost the town $33,720 in 2003, increasing to $81,385 four years later. And for the parks department those costs went up from $1,682 in 2003 to $4,260 in 2007, while the fire department saw increases of $694 to $2,048 in that same time period.

According to the resolution, the "policy encourages town employees to become responsible consumers of energy" by such efforts as diligent car maintenance, shutting off engines when the vehicle is stopped, ride sharing, and using alternative energy sources. Any violation "shall include all measures of discipline, up to and including termination," the resolution warns.

"I feel like we won't be affecting services with this policy," George Fetko, public works director told the council, adding, "The goal here is to be more energy efficient."

Some departments will not be able to follow all the new guidelines, however.

An ambulance, for instance, has to idle when the weather dips below 50 degrees in order to keep patients and medicine warm inside, Fire Chief William M. Call said.

Police cruisers also need to stay running when an officer is parked watching traffic, as they are often writing reports at that time and may need to speed off quickly in pursuit, Police Chief James Kenny said.

Kenny also told council members that he would put two officers in a cruiser, but only on some shifts when he had adequate staff available. The number of police cruisers patrolling the town would not change, however, Kenny added.

"I won't do anything to jeopardize my officers or the public," Kenny said.

While town council members voted unanimously to adopt the resolution, it wasn't without its detractors.

Democratic Councilwoman Marie Herbst took exception with the discipline section and suggested the new policy would affect public safety.

"I think this is harsh for something that's suppose to be a brand new program," Herbst said, adding "If they can't do these things, you're going to terminate them? How are you going to measure it?"

McCoy said he could quantify the savings by what's spent and consumed, and would come back in a year with those figures.

"I don't want to have to offer layoffs as a way to balance the budget. These are policies that can be enforced," McCoy said.

Among the efforts to be adopted:

* Purchase more energy efficient vehicles when replacements are needed.

* Install programmable thermostats in all town buildings and equip lights with motion detection switches and low energy bulbs.

* Ride share when appropriate.

* No idling of unattended vehicles.

* Conduct monthly tire pressure checks.

* Use synthetic oils where applicable.

The department heads say that the goal of 10 percent reduction is within reach if everyone works together.

"When this was first brought up I was hesitant, because we're a department dependent on vehicles," Call said. "But these are things we'd do in our own households to save gas and we should be doing them here as well."

In other business, the Town Council voted unanimously to seek $40,000 in state aid for a feasibility study on turning the Citizen's Block Building into a Connecticut Music Museum and Hall of Fame highlighting the late local rock 'n' roll legend Gene Pitney.

The town-owned building on the corner of Park Place and Elm Street is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is in need of major - and costly - renovations.

Last year the General Assembly secured funds to create a Connecticut Music Hall of Fame, but a location has not yet been decided.

State Rep. Claire Janowski, D-Vernon, told council members Tuesday there is strong support across the aisle in the legislature, particularly from area lawmakers, to site the facility in the Rockville section of town.

"Gene Pitney is the only Connecticut resident inducted into the national Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame," Cliff Edwards, chairman of the Gene Pitney Commemorative Committee, said. "If that doesn't give us a leg up, I don't know what does."

©Journal Inquirer 2008