Monday, April 8, 2013

Renewing and Preserving the Town of Longmeadow - Part 2

Management of a town requires the collective skills of many people working as a team. Because of these complexities, Division Chiefs must be looked on as subject matter experts for a variety of issues including long-range planning for their divisions under the stewardship of the Town Manager.

Commitment to maintain resources in a community should be programmatic instead of reactive. Simply stated, repairing roadway drainage structure (drop inlet) before it fails by sinking into the ground is proactive maintenance, while scheduling this repair after it has failed is reactive maintenance. The main different, one form of maintenance you control and the other controls you. Bad news, reactive maintenance costs you more money and is very disruptive to operations. Good news, with proper procedures in place combined with adequate funding you can drastically reduce incidents of reactive maintenance. 
In 1990 a distinguished group of public and private sector maintenance professional assembled to conduct an in-depth review of how public resources were being maintained and to offer recommendations for improvement. The name of this study was “Committing to the Cost of Ownership” and in their final report they identified three major areas of concern for improving how we manage and maintain public resources. 
Adequate Funding:
It was determined that underfunding of maintenance and repair (M&R) activities was widespread and a persistent problem. The study concluded that an appropriate budget allocation for routine M&R should equal 2% to 4% of the aggregated replacement value of the resource. The study also determined where a neglect of maintenance had caused a backlog of needed repairs to accumulate; spending must exceed this minimum level until the backlog has been eliminated. 

Our Town’s current strategic planning document lists our resource value at $1,000,000,000, which would mean we need to set aside between $20,000,000 and $40,000,000 a year to fund our maintenance and repair program.  

Our Department of Public Works (DPW) annual budget funds all of our routine maintenance and some limited repair activities, but falls far short in being adequate to meet all of the maintenance and repair needs of our resources. Special funding sources such as the Capital Improvement Fund and Chapter 90 funds are primarily dedicated towards maintenance and repair (M&R) activities, but even with these additional resources we still fall far short of where we should be.  

Our Capital Improvement Program instead of being established at funding threshold equal to 2% of our net resource valve it is funded at 1/10th of 1% or 0.01%.
Condition Assessment:
Periodic condition assessment (inspection) is an essential step in effective facilities management.  This process involves comparing the current condition of a resource against the condition if it were being maintained properly. The result of this comparison identifies your maintenance backlog. Ideally this information would be used to develop your next year’s M&R budget. This process also becomes a management tool for monitoring the effectiveness of M&R activities. When the inspection takes place and you notice a resource starting to fail you schedule the required repairs before it fails which is proactive instead of reactive maintenance. You do the repairs when it is convenient instead of being forced to do them at an inconvenient and more expensive time.
Maintenance Management:
A computerized management system is where all of your work requests are stored in data files where they can be scheduled at any time. This is also where your maintenance backlog projects can be found. No more waiting for something to break. Go to the computer and schedule a week’s worth of tasks in priority order for each employee in your organization.  This data provides you with reliable resource data on work project completion, cost, history of repairs, etc. Critical work events and routine repair requests can be schedule and will automatically be generated on the due date. Web-based tracking of resident complaints allow originators to access updated status on complaints until completed. Even with all of the variables in place, without a management system to facilitate your organization your overall success will be limited.  

It is unfortunate but inevitable that the construction of new facilities attracts far greater attention than the maintenance and repair of existing ones. While facilities are designed to provide service over long periods of time, the substantial costs of construction are addressed all at once in public debate and management decisions. In contrast, the yearly cost of maintenance seem small, although over the course of the facility’s service life they generally total much more than the initial costs of construction. The commissioning and occupancy of a new facility are news-worthy event that attracts public attention, but the ongoing work of maintenance and repair receives little notice except when failures occur that affect the ability of the facility’s user to perform work. We just opened a brand new High School that is going to require a much more sophisticated maintenance and repair program than our previous school with its state-of-the-art systems and equipment.
Managers and elected officials, faced with the constant challenge of balancing competing public priorities and limited fiscal resources, often find it easy to neglect  the maintenance and repair of public buildings, and not only because new construction or other activities have greater public interest. The cumulative effects of wear on a facility are slow to become apparent and only infrequently disrupt a facility’s user. Managers of facilities seldom have adequate information to predict when problems will occur if maintenance efforts are deferred.  These managers are often poorly equipped to argue persuasively the need for steady continuing commitment to maintenance. Underfunding of maintenance and repair is such a prevalent practice in the public sector that it has become in many communities a de facto policy that each year compounds the problem as the backlog of deficiencies grows.
Neglect of maintenance can nevertheless affect public health and safety, reduce productivity of public employees, and cause long-term financial losses as buildings deteriorate prematurely and must be replaced. Decisions to neglect maintenance, whether made intentionally or through ignorance, violate the public trust and constitute a mismanagement of public funds.
This is a brief overview of some of the building blocks required for having a proactive maintenance and repair program.  In Part 3 I will address problem-solving and an overview of where we are today in the Town of Longmeadow concerning the care of our resources. [1]
Although I am a Select Board member these views are my personal views and observations and should not be considered as the official opinion of the Longmeadow Select Board.

[1] Committing to the Cost of Ownership, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. 1990
Town of Longmeadow Three Year Strategic Plan 2007 - 2010

No comments: