“Borough” comes from the medieval word “barrow,” which means “fortified place.” Surrounded as they are by communities that entirely outsource public works, the 10 employees of New Jersey’s Barrington Borough could be forgiven for feeling besieged.
But year after year they prove their value to this Philadelphia suburb, saving 7,500 taxpayers about $200,000 annually by providing all services except solid waste/recycling collection. In the 22 years Foreman Kenny Broome has been with the department, public works has never had a layoff.
“New residents are shocked when they go on our website and see the amount of work we do,” he says.
They shouldn’t be. Given their 1.7-square-mile service area, and that about two-thirds of the borough’s 26 roadway miles belong to the city, crews are visible daily. When they’re not doing the usual — inspecting and maintaining signs, signals, sidewalks, drains, right of way, parks, and buildings — they’re plowing, sweeping, and repairing streets; televising 22 miles of sewers and checking out two pump stations; or maintaining fire, police, and emergency vehicles.
Even so, they occasionally have to remind elected officials and the public of all they can do.
One example is how they eliminated an ice hazard due to sump pump discharge into a street. Tired of endless call-outs every winter to salt and scrape, public works consulted with Greg Evans at KEI Associates in Berlin, N.J., on a $160,000 solution. Then they told the mayor and city council they’d deliver the job for half that.
“We got all the details on the job from our engineer and began site work,” Broome says. They installed 1,285 linear feet of 8-inch PVC pipe, cleanouts, and connections; tied into inlet boxes; and replaced sidewalks and aprons. “We haven’t been called out to this street for icing since installing a storm sewer collection pipe and having residents tie into our system.”
Training is key to employee retention and keeping public works a public service in an era of cynicism toward government. Though he started with the department in high school through a co-op program, the city later paid for Broome to complete a certified public works management course.
“The most challenging component of overseeing the department is managing so many tasks at one time and keeping your employees accountable,” says Broome. “Every day is a new learning experience.”