South Lake Tahoe to reorganize public works department
The South Lake Tahoe City Council will reorganize the city’s public works department after receiving a detailed briefing on an upcoming consolidation this week.
The department has several divisions and covers everything from the maintenance of buildings, roads and parks to fleet operations and snow removal, along with engineering services.
“We believe it will be a positive change to be more effective and efficient in the future,” said Ray Jarvis, the city’s public works director.
Under the restructuring, public works would consolidate streets/snow removal services and maintenance for all facilities under one umbrella called operational services.
“There are many positive reasons for moving forward with this organization,” Jarvis said.
Benefits could include a reduction of seasonal staff by converting them to full-time positions within the same budget, stimulating opportunities for growth in the city, creating a cross-trained workforce, centralizing operations and removing redundancy in equipment, materials and labor.
Jim Marino, the city’s assistant public works director, added the plan reflects the city’s goals for the next 50 years, especially as it redefines its focus on recreation.
“We focus resources on where we need them, when we need them and how we need them as opposed to having individual silo divisions,” Marino said. General, unrestricted budgets would also be brought under one roof under the reorganization.
In terms of workforce, the plan could allow the city to become more flexible and reduce or eliminate the need for seasonal crews. Currently snow removal operations require 13 seasonal workers in addition to the eight permanent street maintenance workers on staff.
“It’s a very difficult task to recruit, train and keep inward and rely on those seasonal staff during the winter,” Marino said. “The goal is to have a dedicated force during the winter and not rely, at the city’s risk, on a seasonal workforce.”
Those seasonal budgets would be converted to five or six full-time permanent jobs under the restructuring.
Tracy Franklin, the city’s spokeswoman, said Thursday restructuring won’t result in layoffs.
“The staff reductions that took place three or four years ago already resulted in a skeleton workforce,” Franklin said.
The reorganization could also create opportunity for advancement within the public works department, according to city officials. A new set of employee classifications would allow promotion from within.
“In some divisions, entry level workers have no where to go until manager,” Marino said. “There is no stepping stone or anything that ties employees.”
He also stressed quicker response times and better communications with other departments like parks and recreation could result from the changes.
“Right now we are a purely reactionary department and that is what we have morphed into,” Marino said. “We basically run around putting out the highest priority fires.”
While public works has some organization, Marino said, reorganization would allow the department to map out the bigger picture; like road maintenance, critical equipment replacements and major events; well in advance of needs.
City Manager Nancy Kerry said the changes would reverse the recession-era decision to split various public works divisions. She said parks maintenance has already been brought into the fold, but the broader reorganization may have a greater payoff.
“When you work as one team in the same direction, it’s often more efficient,” Kerry said. “Government doesn’t often think that way and sticks to the same thing.”
Kerry added the reorganization will take effect with the new budget on Oct. 1.
Mayor Hal Cole called the reorganization an exciting relief.
“I don’t know for how many years that I was worried about something catastrophic happening when having seasonal employees doing snow removal,” Cole said. “It takes a little bit of time to understand the neighborhoods, know where the driveways and obstacles are.”
Cole said having a dedicated permanent workforce would eliminate that.
Councilman Tom Davis added the reorganization reflected a private business structure.
“This is how business would do things and maintain the high quality of level of service,” Davis said. “That this came from the department up and not top down is why it’s going to be so successful.”