Overhaul of FD Public Works Department introduced

A plan to reshape the Fort Dodge Public Works Department has been described as beneficial to the city and the department’s staff, but those employees have plenty of questions about it.

City Manager David Fierke and and Public Works Director Greg Koch introduced a plan Monday night to reorganize the department into three divisions.

Fierke said the proposal is fueled by the future introduction of new garbage trucks and an Iowa Department of Natural Resources directive on how to manage the water system in the future.

He told the City Council Monday that the plan would enable the department to do more preventive maintenance and offer its employees the chance to learn new skills.

But several Public Works Department employees told the elected officials that the plan would break up the current work crews and freeze the wages of some employees.

Council members asked Fierke and Koch to spend more time with the employees explaining the plan.

”I think you need to sit down with these guys and talk with them,” Councilman Kim Alstott said. ”I think they should have input, because, I tell you what, they probably have some pretty good ideas that you haven’t even thought about.”

Mayor Matt Bemrich said there appeared to be a communication gap between the workers and management.

”It sounds like they don’t fully know what you’re thinking,” he said to Fierke and Koch.

The council members informally agreed to drop any part of the plan that would freeze the wages of workers. No formal action was taken since the the plan was presented for discussion only during a workshop session.

Council members didn’t indicate when they would consider the proposal again.

The department now has 46 employees. They are in these divisions: sanitation, streets, traffic safety, vehicle maintenance, water distribution and water meters.

Fierke said two factors will bring change to the department.

The advent of the new garbage trucks is the first of those factors. Late this year or early next year, the city will receive new trucks that use a mechanical arm to lift and empty containers of trash and recyclables. Koch said bids have been received for the vehicles and are being reviewed.

The new trucks require just one person to operate, so once they arrive, fewer people will be needed in the sanitation division.

Also late this year, the city will begin pumping 5 million gallons of water a day to serve the existing community and the industrial park called Iowa’s Crossroads of Global Innovation. Once that happens, the Department of Natural Resources will require the city to have someone overseeing the water distribution system who has a high level of training and certification, according to Fierke. He said that person will have to have what the DNR calls a Grade 4 license.

John Horrell, the superintendent of the John W. Pray Water Facility, has such a license. But because he works in the water plant, the state regulators want the city to employ a second person with such a license who would be in the field every day supervising work on the water lines.

The proposal before the council would divide the department into three divisions: a water utility division led by the person with the Grade 4 license, a streets and sanitation division and a vehicle maintenance division.