Creative contracts, achieved goals
How is a very small town able to maintain quality infrastructure? “Partnerships for us is survival,” said Gary Cinnamon, town administrator in Lyons, Colo. “If we don't have partnerships, then the cost of maintaining the streets and infrastructure would increases our budget to where it would raise the cost of doing business in town.”
Lyons, a town of 1585 people nestled at the foot of the Rockies, is not so much a tourist town in its own right as a way-point on the road to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park 20 miles further into the mountains. Originally a quarry town for world-famous Lyons sandstone, it has in recent years become a rapidly growing bedroom community for Boulder, 15 miles to the south.
The public works department in Lyons has four employees: public works director Scott Daniels, a foreman, and two others. “But all of them are working positions,” said Cinnamon. “Scott takes care of the administrative jobs, but when needed he works in the field, too. Whatever needs to be done, we all jump in and take care of things. When we have an emergency or have something that needs to get done immediately, we share crews between the parks department and public works. We have job descriptions but they go away in a hurry when something needs to get done.”
Lyons' public works department is responsible for the roads, the sewers, the potable water, and the electric power systems. And yet large parts of that work are contracted out. “We contract with Albert's Water and Wastewater Service to manage our water and wastewater treatment plants,” said Cinnamon. “One problem we had was, being a small town, we would train operators for the water and wastewater plants, but once they got their operator's license, they could make so much more money working elsewhere that they would leave us. Turnover was high and trying to keep people trained was expensive and difficult. So contracting out with a service to run the system took away that headache. Same with the electric system. We had one lineman but when he retired we decided to contract out that work. This saves us money and it's a much safer system now.”
Recently Lyons faced a dilemma with its water system. “We had two major problems,” said Cinnamon. “First was that the old plant couldn't meet the new drinking water standards. And second was that the only storage we had was 300 acre-feet in Buttonrock reservoir, but our on-stream water right priority was low so we were at the mercy of others who had higher rights to the water. We were looking at a microfiltration system and creating some raw water storage with a price tag of $10 million. We looked at 13 different options to fix our water predicament. About a year and half into trying to figure out what to do, Longmont (a much larger town about 12 miles away) came to us and said we'll treat your water at cost on a pump back system. This was a $4.8 million deal. At first I was reluctant, but the more we talked I became convinced that it was the only option. We are now done with this transition and it works amazingly well, so the water and wastewater contractor will only be responsible for the wastewater plant operations, although they will still be responsible for testing the water, making sure the system stays clean and good. But 99% of our water treatment is going away.”
Creativity is critical in all aspects of the work in Lyons. “A lot of our utilities are very old,” said Cinnamon. “We have a water main under Main Street that is 60 or 70 years old. We have lots of utilities that no one took the time to indicate where they are. A lot of times we'll start with institutional memory: we'll find the oldest guys in town and ask them if they remember where it is. We budgeted money this year to begin a GIS program, which will be huge for us. We've petitioned the Denver Regional Council of Governments to help us out with some funding for a GIS—they have technicians that will come to help us. We just have to be creative, but there are some resources out there.
“We have a great relationship with the Colorado DOT,” said Cinnamon. “We share a lot of things: if they need water for a project we give them water and they give us paint for striping, they help us with sand and salt—there's a good spirit of cooperation, which is important for a small town.
“The key,” he reiterates, “is creativity. If someone walks through that door with an idea, I want to hear it. Some go right back out the door, but every once in a while one is excellent and we save some money and provide something good to our citizens.”
Lyons, Colo., at a glance
Land area: 1.2 square miles
PW budget: $3.86 million
Web site: www.townoflyons.com
Rate of growth: Currently 810 water taps expected to increase to 1310 (build out) in 10 years; 70 taps sold in 2005