Experimentation continues in the world of Wauwatosa Public Works, as Director William Porter follows his cost-saving innovation in waste collection begun this year with pilot programs in de-icing of roadways and sidewalk replacement, among other changes in the departmental budget for 2014.
Public Works in Wauwatosa is made up of five divisions: engineering, fleet maintenance, operations (including santitation), parks and forestry, and traffic and electrical. At last week's meeting of the Budget Committee, Porter presented separate budgets for all these functions.
The department reduced costs in waste collection for 2013 by the use of trucks that require only one operator, a driver, to pick up trash and recycling, and using the same trucks for both pickups.
This year, he's begun experimenting with new ice removal processes, and Porter said he envisions cost savings in reduced salt use and possibly reduced overtime in the future.
One method, called anti-icing, involves applying salt brine to roadways in advance of a storm. This melts snow from the bottom up as it accumulates. It is said to melt about a half-inch of snow without additional effort, freeing up city crews for a while to attack other areas.
In the coming winter, the department plans to use anti-icing on key roads, on curves and hills, railroad crossings and some intersections.
The city has a 500-gallon tank it would use for this program, which requires careful tracking of storm patterns to stay ahead of the weather.
"This is three, four, five hours before the storm," Porter said.
Porter also discussed "pre-treatment," which is applying the brine to the pavement before dropping regular road salt on it. This is said to reduce "bounce" of the dry salt, and reduces salt use. Glendale Avenue, State Street, and 68th and 70th streets are some of the routes likely to be treated this way. The department estimates a 20 to 40 percent reduction in salt use due to this method.
Part of the challenge of both methods is training operators and recalibrating understandings of how much salt should be applied, he noted.
The pilot program on sidewalks would have city crews, with five temporary employees, replacing sidewalk squares in a roughly eight-square-block area. It amounts to about 16 blocks of city streets, replacing selected sidewalk squares on both sides.
A private contractor would do the work on those streets for an estimated $40,880, Porter said. He estimated it would cost the city $58,610, budgeting generously, excluding one-time costs.
"This might be the dumbest idea since new Coke," he said.
While city crews will be less efficient than private crews who pull and replace sidwalks day in and day out year-round, Porter said, he recommended the program as a way of giving his employees experience in concrete production work, and as a method of calculating and tracking true costs of time and materials involved in the work.
Elizabeth Hilt, a management analyst for the Public Works Department, explained that the estimate for city costs is a best guess, and part of the purpose of the experiment is to get a firmer cost figure and see where reductions might be made.
"We really don't know how much it's going to cost," she said.
One of the biggest advantages is the possibililty of reducing future operating budget expenditures, which are subject to state-imposed levy limitations, because the costs of sidewalk replacement are charged to the capital budget. As an item in the capital budget, borrrowing can spread the cost over a long period of time, and shift a portion of staff wages off the 2014 operating budget, Budget Committee chairman and Alderman Craig Wilson said.
Individual homeowners, who pay for the replacements, can't by state law be charged more than it would cost a private contractor, even if it costs the city more, Porter said.
"If we can't compete, then we'll know that and won't propose it again in 2015," Porter said.
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