City repair shop cuts vehicle costs

Jun 19, 2017

From The Decatur Daily
by Bayne Hughes

Two years after budget overruns almost sank the department, Street and Environmental Services has dramatically cut its vehicle repair expenses.

Director Rickey Terry said the city of Decatur’s repair shop is almost $80,000 below their spending plan through 68 percent of the fiscal year. The budget for the year is $357,000.

The shop features four mechanics, with a manager and a clerk, who handle necessary repairs for 240 vehicles and 60 other pieces of equipment. One mechanic exclusively focuses on police department vehicles.

After spending $94,600 on contract repair services and parts in fiscal 2015 , the Street Department has spent only $17,600 so far this year.

“If our projection holds true, our spending will be $50,000 lower than two years ago,” Terry said.

Solid Waste’s spending on vehicle repairs is even lower. After spending $335,000 on contract repairs and parts two years ago, the department cut that expense in half last year and is down to only $68,000 this year.

“That’s pretty remarkable,” Terry said.

Two years ago, overruns on vehicle repairs led to scrutiny of the Sanitation Department, now called Solid Waste. At one point, the city was spending almost $600,000 annually on contract repairs.

The City Council considered eliminating Solid Waste and privatizing the garbage service. Then-Public Works Director Mark Petersohn was let go in November 2015. Public Works was placed under Terry, who also oversees the Decatur-Morgan County Landfill, and renamed Street and Environmental Services.

Terry attributed much of the savings to the work of Street Department Supervisor Wayne Wascavage and Solid Waste Supervisor Reginald Carter.

The purchase of several new garbage trucks and a loader truck also has been a key to reducing repair costs.

The city began diverting $190,000 to a capital program for garbage truck purchases. It also found a buy-back program that allows the city to purchase vehicles and then sell them back to the company after three years.

Street and Environmental Services was spending $315,000 annually on contract repair services, and Wascavage said this was the area that Shop Supervisor Tom Jones focused on reducing.

The city will never be able to eliminate contract repairs because the shop can’t do things such as specialized welding and front-end alignments, Wascavage said.

“We’re trying to do more of the work ourselves,” Wascavage said.

Wascavage said the vehicles are now under a routine maintenance plan, and employees are taking better care of the vehicles.

“We would have trucks go three or four years without getting serviced,” Wascavage said. “It’s hard to ask for new equipment if you don’t take care of what you’ve got.”

The supervisors make sure the employees take care of routine maintenance such as checking fluids and greasing or cleaning parts to keep them in operation, Wascavage said.

Wascavage said the employees are happier under Terry’s supervision, so they take better care of their equipment and they’re more dedicated to the work.

“Under the last director, nobody cared and morale was pretty bad,” Wascavage said. “Now we have someone who has shown us he cares and there’s been a few promotions, so the guys are trying harder.”

Council President Chuck Ard attributed Street and Environmental Services’ turnaround to Terry’s management style.

“Rickey has empowered the employees, and that’s evident in the things they are doing to create the cost savings,” Ard said.

A former chief financial officer at BP-Decatur, Ard said a former coworker once asked, “ ‘Would you spend differently if it was your own money than you do with the company?’ Rickey has been able to get his people to treat their vehicles and equipment like they own them, and it’s beginning to show in the cost savings.”

Terry told the City Council on Monday night that he would like to include funding in the fiscal 2018 to renovate the repair shop.