Published in the NG Times (July, 2019)
In the past eight months as the Council Liaison to Public Works I’ve come to appreciate both the scale and scope of the work that a relatively small number of staff undertake on behalf of the residents of North Grenville. I’ve learned a great deal about what the Public Works department does, how it does it and how it’s paid for. I’m still learning. I thought I’d share some of the cost saving measures the department has undertaken that have saved the Municipality hundreds of thousands of dollars.
First of all, as I mentioned, Public Works does a lot with a little; it continually looks to optimize it’s operations. For example, this winter a resident wrote me a humourous email questioning the route that the snowplow took after every snowfall. The route resulted in more snow piled on his side of the road – could it not be reversed (ie. his side plowed first and the opposite side plowed last); even once in awhile? When it was explained that the route the plow takes is determined by minimizing the distance travelled, gas used and by eliminating switchbacks, he saw the logic and understood (right, Peter?). At first glance Public Works operations may not make sense to you but there’s always method in the madness. It’s hard to put a number to the amount of savings that this particular practice has produced over the years but here are three items that are easier to quantify in terms of savings:
1) LED Cobra-head Streetlights lower hydro costs.
With the help of a successful grant application to the Save on Energy Program, Public Works was able to jump start the replacement of bulbs in each of it’s 377 cobra-head street lights. With all of the lights replaced with LEDs, the associated hydro costs have been reduced by approximately $53,000 each and every year.
2) Waste Water Treatment plant anaerobic digester lowers heating costs.
Anaerobic digesters where part of the original plant construction, they break down biodegradable material during the waste water treatment process. The Public Works department optimized their use to heat the plant by using the recovered methane in place of natural gas. Staff recall previous budget numbers were in excess of $100,000 for the heating costs at the plant. (No financial details are available prior to 2006 based on an ironically titled file retention policy) Now they are considerably less; over the past five years those costs have fluctuated between $18,000 and $24,000 per year.
3) Hiring an in-house mechanic who services Public Works and Fire Services results in many savings.
Prior to the hiring of a full time mechanic, Public Works vehicle maintenance alone was $103,000 (2008); now it’s about $25,000 less (2019). Some creative sourcing of equipment and a bit of ingenuity has resulted in even more savings.
North Grenville has approximately 130 km of gravel roads that produce a lot of dust when travelled upon. It takes a lot of water to suppress it. The Oxford Mills Public Works Garage was able to build a water truck from a used trailer and two new plastic tanks at a cost of $22,442. The cost of purchasing a customized vehicle would have been in the neighbourhood of $100,000. The resulting vehicle now holds 28,000 litres of water.
But the savings don’t stop there. How do you fill two 14,000 litre tanks? After a flood at a facility in Brockville, North Grenville Fire Services Fire and Public Works were able to acquire their de-commissioned pump at no cost and after repairing it put it into service. It can pump water at 4,500 litres a minute. In other words, this re-purposed pump can fill both tanks on the truck in less than ten minutes.
These just a few instances where Public Works has been able to do more with less. With one of the largest budgets of all the departments in the Municipality, being able to make wise investments, to continually optimize it’s operations and to diligently find savings where it can is essential. I hope to report some more in the future.