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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.
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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
Running a fleet like a business

One way to balance your budget—and even buy new shop equipment—is to do work for outside agencies. Some call it in-sourcing, and it's becoming more popular around the country (see PUBLIC WORKS, September 2005, page 54.)

That's what Jim Burke and his team do. As public works fleet manager for Benton County, Ore., Burke's department works for 42 outside agencies. Last year, his shop took in $479,000 for parts and labor from outside agencies such as Oregon State University, the city of Albany fire department, Polk County fire department, and the city of Tangent fire department.

"We do 65% of our work for outside agencies and 35% for our own county," said Burke. "Our overhead stays the same, but by partnering with others, we save road fund money. For example, all of our outside accounts pay for our truck hoist, but our public works department also gets the benefit. I put my dump trucks on there."

Indeed, Burke's department does repair work for other agencies, buys fuel with other agencies, and buys vehicles in partnership with others. "My shop rate is $74.50 an hour," he said. "We annually price-shop everybody's rates, and we are right in the middle. Around here the car dealerships are in the mid- to high-$70s. We are a union shop.

"I run it as much like a business as possible, but we don't make a profit," said Burke. "I come from private industry, so I always want to know how I can help customers."

Burke partners with Oregon State University and the city of Corvallis to buy fuel. That way he can buy a full trailer load of fuel, realize a 2-cent-per-gallon savings, and split the cost of the load fee. Otherwise he would have to buy a lesser quantity at a higher price.

And last year, Benton County partnered with Oregon State and Corvallis to buy 20 Ford Taurus cars. "That saved us $1500 per car," said Burke. "We are partnering with the Oregon DOT (ODOT) and the city of Corvallis to buy equipment," said Burke. "We bought a liquid asphalt distributor that we will share with them, and they bought an asphalt paver that they will share with us. ODOT has rented graders and excavators from us, and in turn we'll rent dump trucks, sometimes with operators, from them.

"We've been able to buy specialized equipment that we couldn't otherwise afford, like a paint striper, because we do work for other agencies with it," said Burke. "The other agencies have told us that we give them lower rates than they can get from the private sector."