Below: Fleet technician Paul Williams, left, and Don Mihalevich, fleet administrator for Springfield, Mo., award personnel through a worker incentive program that gives cash awards for meeting productivity levels. Photo: Springfield Public Works. Right: Larimer County's fleet services (director Kim Nohava has instituted a rigorous preventive maintenance program, including oil sampling for heavy equipment. Photo: Larimer County, Colo.
Jim Burke, public works fleet manager public works fleet manager for Benton County, Ore., partners with multiple agencies to save costs on things like fuel and heavy equipment. Photo: Benton County Public Works

It's a plight shared by many. Fuel costs have shot up, but tax revenues are the same or down. You're asked to “hold the line” on costs.

‘“Hold the line' means cut your budget, because the bills keep increasing,” said Kent Cash, assistant director of general services for fleet maintenance in Durham, N.C. “Electricity, natural gas, and fuel all cost more, and I don't see any end to it.”

What's a fleet manager to do? Durham has cut the training budget, and has deferred building maintenance. And the city's fleet maintenance division has four positions open, with two of them frozen.

But their largest upcoming expense is for equipment replacement—$13 million, according to the city's fleet management software. The software, FASTER from CCG Systems, measures the need for equipment replacement based upon age, mileage, cost, and vehicle condition.

“There's no way we can pay for that with cash,” said Cash. “We're going to need some kind of financing mechanism that will spread the cost over several years. The money will have to be borrowed. We do have a highly effective preventive maintenance (PM) program, but even a great PM program won't raise the dead.”

Not every city or county is struggling to make ends meet, but certainly Durham is not alone. “In the last couple of years we've taken on 20 to 30 more vehicles,” said Kim Nohava, fleet services director, Larimer County, Colo. “Every year the sheriff's department asks us to take care of more vehicles.” He said rising fuel prices have been Larimer County's “biggest hit” this year.

Fleet Turnaround

“We pick up a 4% to 5% increase in the number of vehicles in our motorized fleets every year, and 1 have the same staff that I've had for the past six years,” said Don Mihalevich, fleet administrator in Springfield, Mo., which has a population of about 160,000.

In the late 1990s, city put Springfield's entire fleet maintenance program out -to bid and the department won it back. “We won the bid,” said Mihalevich. “I started as fleet manager at about that time, and we've turned the place around.”

How? For one thing, he launched a worker incentive program. The goal was to bill 70% of all available working hours. The department had to maintain higher than an 80% customer satisfaction rating, and keep its financial status in the black. Every fleet staff member was eligible for a cash bonus if productivity reached a certain level. The results: awards totaling $2500 for each employee have been given for three consecutive years, and another award was expected this fall for fiscal year 2005.

“We created teams, and we paid more attention to the efficiency of our work flow,” said Mihalevich. “We remodeled the parts department and remodeled the office area. We had to bring back professionalism. I had to convince three people that they would have better opportunities in another job."