2016-06-23 / News

Consolidating services, maintenance a cost-saver

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

During the last few years Scarborough has looked at ways of partnering with neighboring communities to offer services in a more cost-efficient way. In the last two years alone, the town has entered into agreements with Cape Elizabeth to share an assessor, harbor master and school food service director, and last year began handling emergency dispatch calls for Old Orchard Beach.

If all goes as planned, the town will, by month’s end, begin servicing the fire and rescue vehicles of Old Orchard Beach and Westbrook.

Last week the Scarborough Town Council unanimously approved the interlocal agreement, which runs July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017, after which time the agreement is renewed automatically for one-year periods until notice of termination from any of the three parties.

The Old Orchard Beach Town Council was scheduled to take up the topic and approve the agreement on Tuesday, June 21. Town Manager Larry Mead said councilors approved the concept during their deliberations of the fiscal 2017 budget.

“I see this as a testament to the quality of our maintenance department, service department of our public works. I am out in the community and know they do very good work on the trucks and vehicles,” said Scarborough Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina.

Per the agreement, Scarborough would service nine vehicles from Old Orchard Beach – the fire chief’s car, command post, tower truck, two pumpers, two rescue vehicles, a pickup truck and the surf rescue vehicle – as well as 14 vehicles from Westbrook. Those vehicles would include four fire engines and three rescue vehicles as well as several other public service vehicles.

A new vehicle maintenance technician will be hired to service the Westbrook and Old Orchard Beach vehicles.

“When (shop supervisor) Jay (Nason) and I were approached about it, we had to sit down and think about it for a little bit and looked at our space capacity,” said Department of Public Works Director Mike Shaw. “We have a double bay at the end. We had the physical space, but there was no way we had the staffing needed to do it.”

To pay for the position and to, as Scarborough Town manager Tom Hall said, “make sure Scarborough residents weren’t subsidizing” the cost of maintaining vehicles from Westbrook and Old Orchard Beach, a profit margin was built into the agreement.

“It covers our cost and then some and is still very attractive to the other communities,” Hall said.

In a June 9 memo to councilors, Hall said aside from covering the cost of the wages and benefits of the new technician and covering the overhead, “we have included a 25 percent margin on top, resulting in an hourly rate of $53.23/hour. In addition, we will charge a 15 percent margin on parts costing less than $1,000 and a 10 percent margin on items costing more than $1,000.”

Shaw said the technician is expected to start at the end of July and will join a staff that includes seven vehicle maintenance technicians, Nason and a parts manager. The vehicle maintenance department, Nason said, services more than 200 vehicles throughout the year, as well as smaller equipment the town owns such as chainsaws and lawnmowers.

Shaw said while a technician is a public works employee, each one specializes in a certain department, which helps build a relationship with the municipal department and continuity in the maintenance and repair.

“We do a lot of cross-training so a guy can come in and do work on any piece of equipment. The guys on the floor are very versatile,” Nason said.

Mead said the agreement makes sense for Old Orchard Beach, given the public safety departments – especially the fire departments – enjoy close working relationships.

“There is a lot of cooperation that goes on between our fire departments in terms of responses and training. There is a lot of interaction between chiefs and personnel,” Mead said. “In terms of vehicle maintenance, we were looking to do a better job with that and do it in the most cost-effective way we can.”

While some maintenance work, such as oil changes, was being done in house, Old Orchard Beach was sending the emergency equipment out to be repaired and maintained.

“Scarborough has an outstanding facility that is capable of doing this. Knowing the condition of their equipment, our fire personnel asked if they could work on our fleet as well,” Mead said.

“We are very excited about it and glad Scarborough is able to provide this service for us,” Mead added.

The Westbrook City Council will vote on the interlocal agreement Monday, June 27. City Administrator Jerre Bryant said this approach seems to be the one that makes the most sense for the city.

“It’s something we support and we want to do,” Bryant said, adding it was becoming harder for Westbrook to keep up with the maintenance needs of the public safety fleet, causing the city to rethink how the vehicles were being maintained. The solution, he said, was to hire more vehicle maintenance technicians or find a more costefficient way to maintain city vehicles.

Bryant said while the school bus fleet is maintained by a school-funded mechanic, the public safety fleet – which includes 50 vehicles, some very specialized – was being taken care of by one individual.

“The work has been increasing more and more as the fleet has grown and as the specialization of the work has grown. As a result we have had to use private garages, which is pretty expensive,” he said.

Outsourcing the fire and rescue fleet would allow more of a focus on the police vehicles the city owns, Bryant said.

“It would increase our capacity and seems to be the most cost-effective approach to it. The other nice thing is it is for a year. If it works out, great. We think it will. If for some reason a year or two from now it doesn’t, we can review it.”

Vehicle maintenance, Shaw said, is something Scarborough has taken very seriously over the years.

“Each municipality makes a decision how far and how invested to get into vehicle maintenance. The town of Scarborough has decided it’s important to have (maintenance) done in house. You control your own destiny to a certain extent,” Shaw said.

Nason said it is not uncommon for communities to come together for vehicle maintenance. The South Portland Department of Public Works, he said, has for the last several years maintained the school bus fleet for Portland schools. Scarborough was offered the work, he said, but could not accommodate it at the time.

An arrangement like the one among Old Orchard Beach, Scarborough and Westbrook, Nason said, is much more uncommon, at least in the southern part of the state.

Scarborough Town Councilor Kate St. Clair said she supports the arrangement and would like the town’s finance committee to look into other opportunities for collaboration with nearby communities.

Councilor Shawn Babine, who is chairman of the town council’s finance committee, said it will be a topic the committee addresses within the next year.

“Scarborough has always been a leader in finding interlocal agreements with other communities,” Babine said.

Hall said finding more cost-effective ways to offer municipal services is something all communities are looking into.

“Speaking for my colleagues, we are in an environment where we need to be creative,” he said.

There may be a day, he said, when Scarborough again reaches out looking for another multi-community partnership.

“While we aren’t on the receiving end or the beneficiary, we very likely may be the next time,” Hall said. “I see this as the future. We need to band together to find costsaving solutions, I see this as a good opportunity.”

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