New management of water, sewer discussed
Discussion of a possible transfer of the Public Works water and sewer department to a private business and an update on the city’s railroad station project topped discussions at Monday’s meeting of the public works committee.
All members of the committee and several members of the public, mostly water department employees, were in attendance along with aldermen Randy Bilbruck and alderwoman Beth Toon.
The city is considering transferring the entirety of the water department — employees, billing, meter reading, project design, facility maintenance and the like — to the private company Woodard and Curran. The company has offices throughout the country and is an integrated engineering, science and operations company.
City attorney Rick Bertinetti led much of the discussion, explaining, “They run it for us, and we own it.” Cost savings, efficiency in services and additional resources for project improvements are some of the benefits the city hopes to gain from such a shift. Council members shared their initial thoughts after having a one on one meeting with representatives from the company.
Chairman Joe Direso, along with all the council members, was impressed with the benefit package and promises to take all union employees. “They would become part of organization with 850 employees.” Direso also was impressed they are managing 50 projects in 15 states. City treasurer Jody Reichmann commented, “I like the human resources part, it’s extremely beneficial. I don’t know how the city has gone this far without one.”
The top concern for the majority of the committee was that the current employees would continue to be fairly employed. City Clerk Carla Brockmeier added, “I only see positives for employees.”
Alderman Doug Downey was impressed at the financial aspects, “They offer a huge pool of resources; project architects, and engineers available. I couldn’t find anything negative – they are private and have no plans to go public.”
Alderwomen Beth Toon and Alderman Randy Bilbruck were hesitant to endorse the company before they had all the facts. Toon commented, “They were personable but I will withhold judgment until I have read the contract. During my meeting, I asked specific questions but didn’t get specific answers.” She questioned how the company is saving such a large amount of money and still providing quality services.
“It’s the sales side versus the details. It’s impressive we are wasting that much money,” commented Bilbruck. He indicated that he was surprised at the amount of profit the company must be expecting which the city has not managed to date. Bilbruck added, “The main thing is to take care of the employees who it affects.”
After the meeting, Director of Public Works Tim Hasara confirmed the company is guaranteeing every employee a job and it is guaranteed to be equal to or better than their current employment package with the city. Currently there are 15 employees along with the Public Works Director as part of the water and sewer department. The option will be there for the director to continue in his current capacity, but it would be a separate negotiation.
Hasara reported other companies that may provide such services have not brought any information to the department about their capabilities or did not want to take on the entirety of the department.
The issue will remain in discussion and a review of the possible contract and contact made with references by council members will continue in the coming weeks. A representative from Woodard and Curran will be at the first meeting in August to answer questions.
Hasara updated the committee on the Safer Routes to School project. The final numbers on using a proposed grant to obtain four speed indicator signs would cost $1,400 more than buying them outright at $16,000. The project is not part of a current budget and it was unanimously decided to end the project at this time.
Approval for a new sewer plant flow meter at the price of $4,850 was approved. The previous meter was destroyed after power outages in recent storms.
Discussion was put on hold regarding a request by residents near Emerald Lane and Gardner Estates for the city to take over portions of the streets. Updated specifications are expected in the future.
The council approved taking over a portion of water main line including a fire hydrant adjacent to the hospital. Language in the agreement was agreed to benefit the city and the hospital.
Before adjourning, Bertinetti passed out updated information to council members on the city’s current attempts to work with IDOT and the railroad to get progress on construction of the train station. The proposal from IDOT on payments to contractors through the city was deemed unacceptable by Bertinetti, “There’s no way the city has the money to pay bills and then seek reimbursement from the state.” The expected cost of the station is near the $4 million dollar mark. The process in ongoing and the council will continue to gather information on what other towns in similar situations are doing in regards to their contracts to get the stations properly funded.