Public Works Investment

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by Councillor John Barclay with help from Public Works staff.

In the past eight months, as the Council Liaison to Public Works, I’ve come to appreciate both the scale and scope of the work that a relatively small number of staff undertake on behalf of the residents of North Grenville. I’ve learned a great deal about what the Public Works department does, how it does it, and how it’s paid for. I’m still learning. I thought I’d share some of the cost saving measures the department has undertaken that have saved the Municipality hundreds of thousands of dollars.

First of all, as I mentioned, Public Works does a lot with a little; it continually looks to optimize its operations. For example, this winter a resident wrote me a humourous email questioning the route that the snowplow took after every snowfall. The route resulted in more snow piled on his side of the road – could it not be reversed (ie. his side plowed first and the opposite side plowed last), even once in a while? When it was explained that the route the plow takes is determined by minimizing the distance travelled, gas used, and eliminating switchbacks, he saw the logic and understood (right, Peter?). At first glance, Public Works operations may not make sense to you, but there’s always a method to the madness. It’s hard to put a number on the amount of savings that this particular practice has produced over the years, but here are three items that are easier to quantify in terms of savings:

  1. LED Cobra-head streetlights lower hydro costs.
    With the help of a successful grant application to the Save on Energy Program, Public Works was able to jump start the replacement of bulbs in each of its 377 cobra-head streetlights. With all the lights replaced with LEDs, the associated hydro costs have been reduced by approximately $53,000 each and every year.
  2. Wastewater Treatment plant anaerobic digester lowers heating costs.
    Anaerobic digesters were part of the original plant construction; they break down biodegradable material during the wastewater treatment process. The Public Works Department optimized their use to heat the plant by using the recovered methane in place of natural gas. Staff recall previous budget numbers were in excess of $100,000 for the heating costs at the plant. (No financial details are available prior to 2006, based on an ironically titled file retention policy) Now they are considerably less; over the past five years, those costs have fluctuated between $18,000 and $24,000 per year.
  3. Hiring an in-house mechanic who services Public Works and Fire Services results in many savings.
    Prior to the hiring of a full-time mechanic, Public Works vehicle maintenance alone was $103,000 (2008); now it’s about $25,000 less (2019). Some creative sourcing of equipment, and a bit of ingenuity, has resulted in even more savings.
  4. North Grenville has approximately 130 km of gravel roads that produce a lot of dust when travelled upon. It takes a lot of water to suppress it. The Oxford Mills Public Works Garage was able to build a water truck from a used trailer and two new plastic tanks, at a cost of $22,442. The cost of purchasing a customized vehicle would have been in the neighbourhood of $100,000. The resulting vehicle now holds 28,000 litres of water.
    But the savings don’t stop there. How do you fill two 14,000 litre tanks? After a flood at a facility in Brockville, North Grenville Fire Services and Public Works were able to acquire their de-commissioned pump at no cost, and, after repairing it, put it into service. It can pump water at 4,500 litres a minute. In other words, this re-purposed pump can fill both tanks on the truck in less than ten minutes.

These are just a few instances where Public Works has been able to do more with less. With one of the largest budgets of all the departments in the Municipality, being able to make wise investments, to continually optimize its operations, and to diligently find savings where it can, is essential. I hope to report some more in the future.

In the meantime, feel free to contact me by phone (Direct: 613-322-8132 or 613-875-4012), by email (jbarclay@northgrenville.on.ca), or drop by one of my Talk To Me Tuesdays weekly meet and greet sessions at a local coffee shop (locations posted on Facebook.com/JB4NG).

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