City plans changes to utility repairs

New strategy to emphasize quality

The city is planning to change the way it handles utility street cut repairs, revising a policy it adopted a few years ago that had been designed to increase revenues earned from those repairs.

Under the old policy, a city crew handled utility cuts production-style, performing a single operation at one site, then repeating the operation at another site, then another, before returning to each of the sites in succession to perform the next operation, and the next, said officials at a work session this week.

For example, a crew might place gravel at several sites in succession, then a base coat of asphalt at each of those sites, then the finish coat of asphalt at each site, according to City Manager Marla Marcinko.

Such production-style methods can be efficient, as they allow a crew, for example, to load up a dump truck with gravel or base-coat asphalt or finish asphalt, then offload the gravel or the asphalt at a succession of sites without switching materials or without needing multiple trucks to be at the same site at the same time. The production-style strategy, however, meant that several cuts were left open simultaneously, and sometimes, those were inadequately protected by barriers, which led to concerns that if an accident occurred, the city could be liable, Marcinko said.

The focus on getting as many cuts done as possible to maximize income from the utility organizations for which the city crews made the repairs also rendered the crew members unable to perform other public works functions, said Public Works Director Nate Kissell.

Accordingly, the department plans to revise its strategy to emphasize “quality” over “quantity,” Kissell told council members, one of whom started the discussion based on a reduction in the amount of revenue projected from street cut repairs in the 2019 budget.

By “quality,” Kissell didn’t mean quality of workmanship but of security around the openings — security that would be easier to achieve if the crew handles each opening from start to finish to minimize the amount of time the openings are hazardous, according to Marcinko.

Under the new policy, the crew members will also be available for other jobs that need to be done, Kissell said.

There could be more changes regarding street cut repairs, Marcinko indicated.

The city’s policy of repairing the street cuts with its own crew is unusual among municipalities, most of which let the utility companies do the work while assigning an employee or hiring an engineering firm to inspect, ensuring the work meets the municipality’s standards, Marcinko said.

As for the possibility of moving the city toward that municipal norm, “there needs to be further discussion,” Marcinko said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.