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The City Journals

Cottonwood Heights Bringing Public Works Home, Parting Ways with TerraCare

May 05, 2016 11:49AM ● By Bryan Scott

By Cassandra Goff 

Cottonwood Heights - On March 19th Cottonwood Heights City Council discussed their options for public works services. After contracting with the public works provider, TerraCare since 2013, the council acknowledged the need for a change. 

Cottonwood Heights Assistant City Manager, Bryce Haderlie, led the discussion and provided the council with information about having a self-providing public works model. His overall suggestion was to move public works in-house, which would consist of buying equipment and hiring a team for the winter season.

“Cottonwood Heights will be a better city having public works in-house,” Haderlie said. 

Mayor Cullimore mentioned how big an issue snowplowing is for the city. “Fire and police deal with less than ten percent of the population; they don’t see residents every day. If you screw up on snowplowing, every resident is affected.” 

After a few more introductory points, he said, “Bryce has come up with a great plan, which includes renting front end loaders, when it’s cheap, throughout the winter.” 

Cullimore continued by mentioning his concerns about personnel issues. “Return employees are a good thing. Drivers are not necessarily the same year to year and having to re-train every year makes for a slow start. You can solve the equipment and management problem but I just don’t know how you assure the personnel and training.”

After a lengthy discussion between the council members, they turned to the staff members for opinions on what the city should do.  

Public Relations Specialist, Dan Metclaf, said, “How your citizens will perceive any move you make or don’t make is something you need to consider. To take public works in-house could be a good move to bring local control to the residents of this city. It will help to build new and better perceptions.”

Public Works Director, Mike Allen, discussed how operations would continue if public works were changed. “There would be more control over what the manpower is doing and the personnel may be more qualitied. Full time people would have more pride because the paycheck would be coming from the city, it’s another step up. We would have more control over overtime. It would be better quality of work for the same cost.”

Community and Economic Development Director, Brian Berndt, said “This is a situation where you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

Chief of Police, Robby Russo, voiced his concerns. “We might need more people because staffing numbers are low. It could be difficult to juggle the employees. The costs will go up but if you’re willing to pay to get the product, we will get a better product.”

Finance Director, Dean Lundell, added, “There is flexibility with doing it in-house.” 

After hearing the opinions from the city staff, Cullimore said, “The reality is we are living with a perception that was set within that first year. TerraCare’s contract renews next year and there are high expectations that we do not renew the contract. Personnel issues are the same either way.”

In response, Councilman Scott Bracken said, “I don’t expect that the product will get worse.” 

Councilman Mike Peterson added, “We became a city so we could self-direct; we have an opportunity to do something. We can be self-providing to determine own destiny and hold own people accountable.”

Councilman Tee Tyler said, “Success relies on us, we have to have confidence in our plan. We have been leading TerraCare in snowplowing, instead of them leading us. We can’t have that to be successful. If we change, I don’t think we can change again. This is a long run decision.”

Councilman Mike Shelton said, “I have a lot of confidence in Bryce’s plan. His experience is greater than all of ours.” 

Mayor Cullimore concluded with the statements, saying, “Whatever decision we make, we need to own it and we need to sell it. This may include neighborhood meetings. We don’t have the luxury of failing. We need to get equipment and financing lined up so we are not panicked in September when we are moving into our new building. We have resources that we have never had before. We need to wipe the slate clean and start over again, having new expectations. There is a bigger risk to not do anything.”

During the work session meeting on April 12, 6pm, the Council announced their decision.

Cottonwood Heights City and TerraCare agreed to cancel their contract. TerraCare will assist the city in transitioning to an in-house public works model so by the time snowfall hits the city, Cottonwood Heights will be ready. 

City Manager, John Park, will meet with TerraCare and work out a plan. He plans to take over public works services in increments.

Public Works Operations Specialist, Danny Martinez, previously oversaw the county operations for the city. With his expertise, the city has confidence that they will have a better operation of snowplowing services. 

Haderlie proposed which equipment the city should acquire after having close discussions with Martinez. He suggests that the city acquires: four 10-wheel dump trucks, four 4-wheel drive Bobtails (smaller dump trucks), three 2-wheel drive Bobtails, three one-ton trucks and four loaders. 

“Bobtails will serve a better purpose in the cul-de-sacs,” Haderlie said. 

Along with the snowplowing equipment, the city plans to acquire its own sweeper that will be used year-round to “improve the appearance of the city.” The city has never owned a street-sweeper, but contracts that service. 

During the business meeting at 7pm the same night, “Resolution No. 2016-20 Authorizing Staff to Commit to Purchases for Public Works Equipment” was passed unanimously.

After the meeting, Metclaf said, “We appreciate the relationship that we have established with TerraCare over the past two and  a half years. We look forward to working with them as we transition to our own public works initiative.”