Tuesday night’s budget session at Dearborn focused on proposed and actual cost-saving measures being undertaken by the Department of Public Works, including the outsourcing of several services and the reorganization of jobs within the department.
DPW Deputy Director Larry Szczygiel presented a document to City Council outlining several ways in which the department could potentially save the city up to $640,000 per year.
The three highlighted areas of service were street sweeping, turf maintenance at public buildings and leaf removal. Szczygiel said that contracting the first two out could respectively save $188,924 and $52,198 per year over the cost to perform the services in house without changing the frequency and quality of services.
Turf maintenance would run for 26 weeks and cover lots at City Hall, all four libraries, the ’s Commandant’s Quarters, the , the and and the .
With a staff that is less than half the size the department was in 2004, contracting out services will also mean less overtime costs for employees. Through reductions and retirements, the department now has 35 employees–down from 90 at its peak seven years ago.
And on Monday night, City Council that will restructure the hierarchy of jobs in the department, essentially allowing for 10 DPW employees to be retrained to work in the Water and Sewer Division on the Combination Sewer Overflow projects, of which the city will have five when they are completed.
That structural change, combined with the loss of employees over time, has meant that the department doesn’t have the staff to continue providing all the services under its umbrella–including leaf, garbage and snow removal, street sweeping, and sidewalk and street repair.
“Through the buyouts and retirements,” explained Mayor Jack O’Reilly, “we’re at a point now where we’d have to hire a lot more staff to continue to do everything ourselves.”
But while Szczygiel had little trouble convincing council members and residents about the merits of contracting out street sweeping and turf maintenance, proposed changes to the city’s leaf removal services were met with more contention and debate.
Total costs for the service in 2010–which allows residents to put their leaves into the street for the city to bag and remove–were nearly $600,000 including labor, equipment and disposal. Szczygiel explained that by requiring residents to bag their own leaves and have Republic Services pick them up with other trash would save the city $400,000 a year without requiring a heftier contract with Republic, which makes up the remaining $200,000.
City officials, however voiced concerns that enforcement would be difficult, and compliance to new rules requiring residents to bag their own leaves would not be uniform.
“The discipline for this is very challenging because if people aren’t doing it, what do you do?” O’Reilly asked. “What’s our ability to require and force people to do it? There’s a lot of issues surrounding this in terms of getting that change in place. That challenge is substantial.”
“Enforcement is the biggest issue,” added Council President Tom Tafelski. “We have trouble enforcing high grass and weeds, and that, you can see on somebody’s front lawn.”
Szczygiel said that realistically, “it would take two years to change people’s habits and get them to comply. So the first two years would be rough on our supervisors out in the field, knocking on doors and trying to explain to people that we’re no longer performing this service.”
Szczygiel said that 95 percent of Dearborn households currently take advantage of the leaf removal service.
Councilman Brian O’Donnell added that he is concerned that taking away leaf removal would make neighborhoods look blighted.
“We don’t need any more dilapidated looking properties,” he said.
Councilman David Bazzy, however, looked at the issue in terms of cost savings. Namely, that saving leaf removal services was much less important than, for example, keeping pools and libraries open.
“There just seems to be, at this point in time, not an economical way to manage this program,” he said. “For myself, I couldn’t sit and look at doing pool closures and library closures and say we’re going to pick up leaves. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Councilwoman Nancy Hubbard agreed: “Everybody should be responsible for their own property,” she said. “Why do they think the city has to do everything?”
The bottom line, added Councilman Robert Abraham, is that the city simply can’t afford to do everything it used to be able to do for residents.
“We sit here and we’re talking about street sweeping, turf maintenance and leaves tonight, but in reality, the issues we have are much broader in scope,” he said.
“It becomes prioritization and preservation,” Abraham added. “You have to preserve the core if there’s any chance at bringing any of this stuff back in the future. We can say keep the pools open, keep the leaf program–we can do all of these things, and I can tell you with certainty what the result will be, and that is that Dearborn will go broke.”
Bazzy said his ultimate goal is to come up with a budget that residents can understand and accept, whether or not they are happy about it.
“It’s not about liking it,” he said of the final budget to come within the next few weeks. “It’s about understanding it, embracing it and helping the city move forward. I’m confident we will do that.”