Small town, big ideas
Pamela Broviak, PE, lives where she works. As the city engineer/director of public works for LaSalle, Ill., she knows her town and its residents intimately. She feels that working in a small town has definite differences from being in a large city.
“There is more contact and communication between personnel within public works and between the public works department and other departments, such as police and fire,” she said. “Another difference is our knowledge of the community. Most of us can visualize each block in town and usually we even know who lives on a particular street. Handling citizen complaints is easier when the person calling already knows us on a personal basis.”
This ability to “visualize each block” has served Broviak well in her town of 9796 people. “My fellow employees and the people in my community know that I genuinely care about them and our community and will always try to make the right decision,” she said. “I don't make too many major decisions without seeking input from our employees and from the public.”
The difficulty, however, of working in a small town, is that Broviak wears several hats. Since the position of building inspector hasn't been filled yet, she's been unofficially serving in that position until it is. The full public works staff comprises 21 full-time employees in the field, three temporary full-time workers in the field, one administrative position, one superintendent, and one public works director.
Because of the small department size, much work is outsourced. “We hire engineering consultants for major projects that cannot be completed in-house such as the design of a new wastewater or water treatment plant,” said Broviak. “Small sewer or water projects are done with our staff in cooperation with a local contractor. All large projects are sent out to bid. All architectural work is performed by a local architectural firm.”
The biggest hurdle that LaSalle has had to overcome in recent years is the age-old problem: money. Although Broviak feels that the public works department's budget is average for a city of its size, the money crunch is often felt in more ways than one. “The median income in our community is below average, and the mall built in a neighboring community in the 1970s decreased our retail base,” she said. “We are just now starting to slowly recover from that.”
The town has, however, managed to maintain equipment and services without too many increases in the budget, even though the town's size has doubled in the past decade. “This has required some careful oversight of expenditures by our comptroller,” said Broviak. “We may have some challenges in the near future because we are expecting some significant development that will require construction of new facilities and addition of personnel in our water and wastewater systems.”
Broviak's previous experience with a larger city, Aurora, Ill. (population 143,000), has given her insight into how a larger town might work differently and how she might prepare for her town's new construction. “Each department [in Aurora] had significantly more personnel and there was less interaction between departments on a daily basis,” she said. “Also, the waste-water treatment operations were separate from public works.”
LaSalle, Ill., at a glance
PW budget: $3.73 million
Web site: www.theramp.net/lasalle
Largest current project: Project with the Illinois DOT to perform all water main work for the ongoing reconstruction project. This involves water main, fire hydrant, and service relocations.