One Question For Four Candidates
We asked each of the four aspirants for the Ward 2 City Council seat the same question last week. Each has provided an answer.
The question is.
What are your thoughts on the privatization of Department of Public Services (DPS/DPW) functions? Should this practice continue, be done on a larger scale, or should it be discontinued?
Here are their answers.
The quality of life in Salem is dependent on a well-maintained infrastructure and delivery of high-quality constituent services. While our Department of Public Services (DPS) carries the majority of the responsibilities to meet these goals, there are city-wide operations that justify privatization to ensure better results for less cost for a small city like ours. Some functions of DPS should continue to be privatized, as long as the oversight of contractors by DPS staff maintains a high level of accountability, professionalism, and timeliness.
There is a wide range of DPS functions that are currently provided by contractors, including solid waste removal, street sweeping, snow removal, and road painting, among others. The competitive contracting process allows the City to select the provider that can deliver the best results for the lowest cost, in the situation where the City lacks the capacity to deliver those services.
When delivery and quality of services by contractors do not meet the expectations, the City must hold providers accountable by revaluating contracts, as we have done in the past with Northside Carting for trash removal. The City’s contract with Waste Management is more than two years in and we’ve seen an increase the recycling rates and decrease in trash tonnage compared to previous years.
In the same vein, the City must also hold itself accountable if a public service is not meeting goals set at the beginning of each fiscal year, and be open for options for improvement, including privatization. For instance reducing litter and cleanliness in areas most trafficked by visitors may call for more contracted services to support DPS personnel.
Lastly privatization should not be the default of DPS or other City services. The City should also take care to select contractors that provide quality jobs to their workforce and not jeopardize existing union positions in our city.
From conversations that I’ve had, my understanding of the way DPS decides whether or not to contract out its functions is by evaluating the relative efficiency of the department versus private contractors. If a private contractor can deliver a service at a lower price or with better quality, DPS will contract out. I hope that is always the case; it certainly should be. For instance.DPS made a trial of contracting out street sweeping, but found it made more sense to return it to an in-house function. On the other hand, it was found that private contractors did better work on sidewalk work.
A lot of the work is seasonal, so it probably does makes sense to contract out to provide those shorter-terms services rather than take on the expense of hiring employees, given the attendant costs of insurance and pensions. It also saves on capital costs of buying equipment. Provided we are vigilant and continually evaluating the relative costs, our use of contracting does seem sensible.
I believe that when it comes to the responsibilities of the DPS, we have the right balance at current. While it can be frustrating when street lines are not painted in a timely manner, a job DPS used to be responsible for, the cost savings from privatizing such functions can be quite large. However Salem is expanding, not out, but up. Density has increased, and as much as some of us don’t like it, it will continue to do so as time progresses. With that, water mains, pumping stations, and sewer systems are going to have more and more pressure out on them, and we as a city need to be sure that we have people on hand who can restore functionality quickly when those systems fail, as well as install upgrades. In regards to DPS’s other two primary purposes; cemetery and park maintenence; when present they do a good job of maintaining both, but perhaps adding one or two more persons to help the growing workload could be beneficial.