Improving Our Public Works Services

Improving Our Public Works Services
Posted on 06/01/2016

By Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore Jr.

In May, we began efforts to prepare for snow plowing during the 2016-17 winter season. The first new plow truck purchased by the city to support our decision to bring public works totally in-house was delivered and displayed at locations around the city.  After three years of working with a contractor to provide snow removal and public works services, the city council decided on April 12 to terminate that contract in favor of providing all public work services, including snow removal, using direct city employees. 

We are confident that bringing the full functions of snow removal and public works under local control will result in better outcomes and better cost control.  We are well positioned to be successful. Our new deputy city manager Bryce Haderlie will spearhead this effort. He was formerly the city manager of Brian Head, Utah.  In that capacity, he became a de facto expert in snow removal. In addition, we have added Danny Martinez to our public works staff.  Prior to working for Cottonwood Heights, Danny spent 30 years with Salt Lake County. More importantly, for the last 18 years, Danny supervised public works and snow removal services in Cottonwood Heights. He knows every street and is well familiar with the nuances of snow removal in this area. To these experts we will add another new administrator that will oversee this new public works effort. One of the critical qualifications for that new hire will be a person well-experienced in managing snow removal operations. 

In addition to hiring the right management personnel to assure we have experience on our side, we have determined to purchase high performance snow removal equipment.  By the end of September, we will receive the following new snow plows: 

  • Four tandem 10-wheel trucks with plow and salter
  • Four 4-wheel drive 5-yard trucks with plow and salter
  • Three 5-yard trucks with plow and salter
  • Three Ford F-550 one-ton trucks with plows 

In addition, we intend to purchase a few large used plow trucks for back-up. To expedite snow removal in cul-de-sacs and other tight spaces, we will be renting special equipment as needed during the season. 

Besides snow removal equipment, we will also be purchasing our own street sweeper.  Presently, we share one with Taylorsville and Holladay, but that has proven inadequate. Having our own will ensure timelier and better cleaning of our roadways. 

We believe we can manage all of these costs within the same budgetary allocations for public works we have spent in the recent past. We will lease the new vehicles to keep our annual cash demands at a minimum. 

Some have asked why we left the county to begin with and why we are not just going back to them now. Several years ago, I served on a committee exploring the possibility of creating a new entity to provide public works and related services to unincorporated residents and those in municipalities that contracted with the county for public works.  

Since 2004, the county has been working to exit the municipal services business. In 2004, the county discontinued its own fire and emergency medical services by creating Unified Fire Authority to serve unincorporated residents and those in municipalities contracting for such services. The Unified Police Department followed suit and was formed to provide police services to unincorporated residents and contracting municipalities. The possibility of creating a new public works entity to provide public works services, including snow removal, was being considered next. As I served on that committee, I became concerned about the potential for significantly increased costs and structural changes that might not be beneficial to Cottonwood Heights. That led to the council considering alternatives of self-providing or contracting. We opted to contract with third party vendor TerraCare out of Colorado, believing the new public works entity contemplated by the county was imminent and our costs were destined to increase. 

Despite our efforts to integrate our public works services with TerraCare, some mishaps and errors associated with the firm’s handling of the first major storm of 2013 led to a public perception that was difficult to overcome. The last two winters were much better, as we worked through many issues. Since 2013, TerraCare has been highly responsive to our expressed concerns. They are working with us to smoothly transition into our new model.  With regard to past struggles, we thank them for the years we have worked together and the professional way in which they are helping us transition to self-providing. We both learned much from the experience.

The aforementioned new public works entity the county was forming years ago took longer to initiate than expected. It will begin operation in January 2017 as the Municipal Services District. We did go back to the county to inquire about the possibility of contracting with them as we did prior to the contract with TerraCare. Unfortunately, the uncertainties associated with the transition to the new service district combined with the quoted costs from the county made that option much less attractive than the choice of self-providing.  

While there will surely be some initial growing pains as we launch our new public works effort this fall, we believe it will be the best model in the long term. 

With new equipment, experienced personnel and local control of all functions, we believe the citizens will receive the best services for snow removal and public works at the least cost by self-providing those services as most municipalities do.