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Gulfport, Miss., moved more than 100 public works employees off its payroll when it hired a private firm to operate its streets/drainage and water/sewer divisions. “Private companies can incentivize employees in a way that a city can't—spot bonuses, for example,” says Gulfport, Miss., public works director Kris Riemann, who remains a city employee. “And they can terminate employees who aren't meeting standards.” Photo: Pat Sullivan
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Angelia Parham worked on a survey crew, for a development company, as a researcher for the Texas Transportation Institute, and was deputy transportation director for the city of Roswell, Ga., before joining CH2M Hill OMI as public works director for Sandy Springs, Ga., the state's seventh-largest city. “In the private sector, there's a lot more opportunity to be innovative and creative, to think outside of the box,” she says, “and that is very much appreciated and rewarded.” Photo: City of Sandy Springs

Hiring spree!

Three new cities north of Atlanta seek public works directors, deputy directors, division managers, engineers, and traffic technicians! Build the team you want, not the one you inherit! Above-average compensation package based on performance rather than tenure! Become part owner of a global engineering-and-consulting firm!

If interested, you can contact the cities directly. But make sure you also touch base with Operations Management International (OMI), division of Englewood, Colo.-based engineering firm CH2M Hill.

In 2005, OMI signed a five-year contract with the newly incorporated city of Sandy Springs, Ga. (population 87,000), to provide all public services except police, fire, and emergency management. The city has just four employees—city clerk, clerk of the court, city manager, and finance director—leaving everything else to employees of OMI and its seven subcontractors.

On Dec. 1, 2006, two cities near Sandy Springs—Milton (population 19,000) and Johns Creek (62,000)—incorporated and signed similar contracts with OMI.

Sandy Springs received national attention for outsourcing all of city hall, including public works. But since Atlanta continues to provide the city's drinking water, the Fulton County Public Works Department continues to treat waste-water, and residents continue to contact private haulers directly to pick up their garbage, OMI's role is limited to road and right of way maintenance, traffic engineering, transportation planning, and capital improvements.

The true pioneer of comprehensive public works outsourcing is Monmouth, Ill. (population 10,000).

In 1993, the city contracted with St. Louis-based Environmental Management Corp. (EMC) to operate two wastewater treatment plants. Five years later, the cash-strapped city asked EMC to also plow, patch, and sweep streets; maintain street signs, sewers, rights of way, a solid waste transfer station, and compost site; trim trees; pick up brush and leaves; and oversee billing, collection, and customer service.

The partners negotiated a 10-year contract, moving all 21 union employees from Monmouth's payroll to EMC's. Late last year, Warren County, which includes onmouth, adopted its first balanced budget in nearly a decade.

ACCELERATING TREND

Since 1652, when the Water Works Co. of Boston became the first private firm to provide drinking water to a city, communities have held down expenses by using the private sector to provide public services. In addition to eliminating personnel and equipment expenses, outsourcing consigns infrastructure expenses to a single, fixed-cost line item and places the burden of regulatory compliance on the provider rather than the public agency.