JOLIET – The efficiency expert hired to review Joliet’s Utilities Department in light of a plan to raise water and sewer rates gave a report last week, but did not offer much to suggest a rate hike could be averted.
Robin Haley with Matrix Consulting Group called the overtime paid in the Utilities Department “exceedingly high.” He also said Joliet needs to hire more people and make preventative maintenance a higher priority, both of which likely would lead to spending more money.
He said the city should move away from four-person work crews and stagger work shifts to reduce overtime.
“We’re fully aware that one of the major objectives of this study was to find cost savings,” Haley told the City Council last week when delivering his report.
He said implementing some changes, including more investment in preventative maintenance, would lead to cost savings in the long term. But Haley did not put a number on how much money could be saved.
The City Council sought the efficiency study nearly a year ago when the Utilities Department sought rate increases to pay for, among other things, a preventative maintenance program.
Haley’s report seemed to confirm the department’s call for more spending on preventative maintenance, although he did not offer an opinion on the need for rate increases.
Calling most field work done by the Utilities Department “reactive,” Haley said, “You’re waiting until something breaks, and then you fix it.”
A review committee will develop recommendations from the study findings. But there was some immediate disagreement about Haley’s report.
Overtime, which amounts to 29 percent of total pay in the department, is an option to avoid hiring more staff and potentially spending more, City Manager Jim Hock said.
“I’m not disappointed in that number,” Hock said.
He said Joliet’s overtime rate is probably being compared to numbers in “right to work states” where employees may not have the pension and health benefits that are paid to municipal employees in Illinois.
“Oftentimes, in the public sector in Illinois, it is cheaper to pay overtime than it is to hire more people,” Hock said. “It’s a balancing act.”
Hock said the four-person standard in field crews is required under a union contract and is down from a previous requirement of five-person crews.
John Dillon, president of Local 440 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents the Utilities Department, said smaller crews at work sites would be a safety issue.
“If you make it any smaller, that would be an [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] issue big time,” Dillon said.
He said staggered work shifts are not barred by the union contract and have been used before.
“It seemed like it resulted in more overtime,” Dillon said.