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Bretl
December 21, 2011 | 07:37 AM
Our public works director, Shane Crawford, has put in his last snowplowing season. Shane, Walworth County's deputy county administrator-central services, recently accepted a position with Madeira Beach, Fla., where he will take over as that city's manager.

Shane leaves with our best wishes as he takes on that new challenge early next year. He is leaving some big shoes to fill having, in many ways, defined the position which he will be leaving.

Just prior to Shane's arrival in 2004 the county had merged its highway and facilities departments into a single public works department. While this move may not seem like a big deal today, it was controversial when it was first implemented. The two departments had a different history and culture.

The highway department, which dates back to 1911, was one of the oldest and most visible parts of the county operation. The facilities department, on the other hand, was a relative newcomer. Custodians and maintenance personnel that had been assigned to various county departments weren't organized into a single department until 1998. Centralizing the management of these two operations and getting folks to work together was one of Shane's first tasks.

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Due to his efforts and the hard work of all employees, the single department accomplishes more today, with fewer personnel, than the two departments did on their own. Responsibilities of our public works department are diverse, including the following tasks:

• Highways. On snowy nights, when I don't even care to step outside, public works employees plow nearly 700 lane miles of state highways in addition to 451 lane miles of our own county roads. When the weather warms up, these same crews perform maintenance on the roads they kept clear all winter. The county's public works committee is currently reviewing its road maintenance policy. Increasing the amount of crack-filling and seal coating that county workers perform each year can dramatically extend the life of asphalt roads.

This approach costs more in the short-term, however, deferring the complete reconstruction of a highway can save big bucks in the future. Assisting the committee in determining the most efficient maintenance and reconstruction schedule will be high on the "to-do" list of Shane's successor.

• Facilities. The central services department is also responsible for making sure county buildings and grounds are properly maintained and cleaned. This mission is made more challenging due to the diversity of county operations. While the county has its share of office space, we also operate a number of facilities that require special knowledge and attention. Our jail and nursing home, for example, operate around the clock. We run a K-12 special needs school, public works shop and Sheriff's office, in addition to two parks and a recreation trail. Under Shane's leadership the department has looked "outside the box" to find ways to continue to provide a quality service, but at a lower cost. As a result, outside contractors now supplement county workers in providing janitorial services. Work release prisoners from the county jail assume some of the grounds keeping duties, and volunteer master gardeners plan and maintain landscaping at a number of county buildings.

• Fleet operations. For years, the county highway department employed mechanics to maintain its trucks and equipment. Over the past decade, the public works department began leveraging its resources and now maintains all county vehicles.

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• Purchasing. Another important milestone which took place during Shane's tenure was the transfer of central purchasing to the public works department. That move, which occurred in 2007, changed Shane's job title from "public works" to "central services" to reflect the increased responsibility of the position. Today, a staff of four purchases everything from squad cars to paper clips. Centralizing this function benefits the county in a number of important ways. Combining purchases into larger orders gives the county better bargaining power than when each county department was on its own to procure supplies and equipment. Standardized purchasing documents provide remedies for poor performance and protect the county's interest to a far greater extent than when departments simply signed agreements provided to them by vendors.

• Construction management. As the county embarked on a major upgrade of its physical plant during the last decade, public works was tasked with the responsibility of overseeing new construction. Procedures developed during construction of our new nursing home and special needs school, as well as a major remodel of the old courthouse, ensured successful completion of these projects and will provide a framework for managing construction in the future.

Central services has come a long way since workers patrolled county highways by horse and wagon. While the department makes use of the latest technology, it still uses one "old school" formula to estimate the number of snow events we will be facing in the upcoming year. The formula, which I am told actually came from the Old Country, utilizes the new moon and can only be made after the first "cat-trackable" snow falls on the county.

The formula has proved remarkably accurate in recent years, predicating 32 events last winter, which was the precise number we experienced. If its prediction holds true this year, we can all feel a little less envious of Shane's upcoming Florida winter. Only 14 winter events are predicted this season. I will report back on this prediction after the snow season ends, sometime in June or July.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Walworth County Board of Supervisors.

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