City looks to save on vehicle maintenance by consolidating

STUDY: Consultant will weigh combining work on municipal vehicles.

April 10, 2011 

Can Anchorage save money by changing the way it manages its diverse vehicle fleet? The city administration thinks it's possible, and is looking for a private consultant to hunt for savings in its maintenance and public works departments.

The consultant will recommend improvements such as consolidation in the way the city maintains its vehicles, from People Mover buses to police cars to street sweepers, and its buildings and grounds, including parks.

Also, the consultant will assess project management and engineering within the city -- the people who design and manage roads, parks and trails projects.

The point? "More efficiencies," said Lucinda Mahoney, the city's chief financial officer.

Some Assembly members say the city should be wary of consolidation for consolidation's sake -- it doesn't always save money or work better.

The city has requested proposals from companies that have expertise in improving processes in the public sector, Mahoney said. The consultant is to identify the best opportunity for savings, and present findings to the mayor.

Shifting the city work to private contractors is not the focus -- city union agreements don't allow union jobs to be contracted, Mahoney said.

But if the consultant believes an area would be more efficient if it were contracted out, the consultant can include that recommendation, she said.

The price of the contract is not set. But the administration is asking the Anchorage Assembly to set aside $300,000 as part of the city's first quarter budget changes, due to be approved April 26.

Assembly member Debbie Ossiander said it's hard to evaluate consolidation projects in advance, and one she remembers -- a plan for the city, school district and state to do joint bulk purchasing --actually went into debt. It overspent by nearly $1 million, city officials said. The city closed it down in 2008.

She said she'd like "an autopsy of our ... purchasing failure" to figure out what went wrong that time.

Assembly member Paul Honeman said he's intrigued by the idea of combining maintenance on the city's vehicle fleets, for example, but sees a downside, too. He asks, who would set the priorities if a school bus needed work versus a police bus?

Eventually, the effort to find maintenance and public works efficiencies could be extended to the school district, said Mahoney, but not now. "Our intent here is to start with general government. We can grow it."

Consultants' applications to take on the job are due by April 22.

The study on maintenance and public works follows another similar attempt to make administration and finance functions more efficient, Mahoney said.

The biggest project in administration is a new software system that would handle the budget, purchasing, project and grant management and other jobs. The city is now evaluating proposals, she said.

The city will also move from manual to electronic time cards in July.

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at or 257-4340.

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