Public Works Improves Services

Mayor of Tulsa

When I was a young boy I remember the day my father brought home our first color television set. I asked him why he did that when the black and white set we had was working just fine with a great picture. He said to me, “sometimes something doesn’t have to be broken in order for you to do better.”

In a sense, that is why we are approaching the reforming of the City of Tulsa’s Public Works services. There are many aspects of public works that are working fine but there are many other parts which, over the past 20 years, have not had the reforms and modernization of what a new public works departments should look like today.

In 2008 the city hired a company called that did an extensive assessment of the public works department and yet few of the recommendations had been implemented.

In 2010 we conducted the efficiency review and, again, many recommendations for efficiency and cost savings opportunities were presented. Finally, we did the first citywide citizens survey earlier this year and the public was quite clear on where they wanted to see improvements in public works.

Taking all three of these reports, my management team spent six months reviewing best practices, talking to other public works departments and reviewing operations. In the end, I determined it was time to take action and to make changes. As expected, those who seem to know the least about the department or have not read these reports are resistive to change.

One of the biggest reasons for the reshaping of the department is to address the concerns and the findings regarding the street maintenance section of public works.

The condition and maintenance of our streets consistently are at the top of the public’s concerns and, after reviewing the and reports, they are well placed concerns. Less than 50 percent of the resources with the street maintenance section is actually spent on street maintenance. Some findings place it closer to 20 percent. The rest of their time is spent being pulled to other jobs that have nothing to do with maintaining streets. Because this has occurred over time, the report concluded that, “The current preventive and routine maintenance backlog is 20 years.” For this reason, we have used streets programs, such as “Fix Our Streets” as the default street maintenance program. This is not an acceptable method to maintain our investment on a consistent basis.

In our reorganization, we are bringing back a streets and public facilities department, much like many remember under the Commission form of our government. We will reassign resources that were meant to be for our streets program back to the streets department. Approximately $2 million from the 2006 sales tax funding for non-project specific maintenance will be redirected for preventive maintenance on our arterial, residential and sidewalk repairs.

The other big component of the public works department is the water and sewer services. This will now be its own department and under the very watchful eye of the Utility Board, will continue to make improvements to these services. Last year I recommended to the Utility Board that a full assessment of the water and sewer functions be undertaken for the first time. The board agreed to spend close to $3 million on an 18 months comprehensive assessment that will layout the blueprint for water and sewer improvements well into the future.

Finally the report showed that the public works department needed to focus primarily on its core services and leave the support operations to those departments that already provided support services to city departments. Functions like personnel, purchasing, information technology, finance and customer services will be moved out of public works and into those respective departments that have that expertise. This move, and others, will save approximately $600,000.

I am convinced that in time, the public will see the results and progress, which the fine employees in the public works department are always committed to provide.

Updated 08-31-2011

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