Santa Paula Times

Council balks at outside costs, asks for study on in-house wastewater collection

April 11, 2012
Santa Paula City Council

The City Council agreed at the March 19 meeting to hire two temporary employees to provide wastewater collection services using a city Vactor truck, but they are awaiting a request for proposal on whether or not to again contract out or make it in-house.

The action came on the heels of the Southwest Water stopping service just prior to the meeting. The company had been paid about $250,000 annually for the maintenance service.

About two years ago the city purchased a Vactor truck for such work at a cost of about $300,000 with an eye to saving money by hiring two employees to bring the work in-house.

Councilman Rick Cook asked that the item be pulled from the consent calendar for staff discussion and research. He noted several service providers that could be called upon in an emergency to help the city avoid state liability issues, including Ventura Regional Sanitation District.

VRSD Executive Director Mark Lawler offered the council a general overview of agency operations during the presentation portion of the meeting. Mayor Bob Gonzales is a VRSD board director.

SEIU worksite coordinator Danny Carrillo told the council there was no mention in the staff report of converting the service to city provided as had been discussed in the past. “Here’s an opportunity to do further research and think about contracting in instead of contracting out” the positions, which have already drawn the interest of present and former city employees. 

He urged the council to “Keep the local dollars local, keep those who work in the community or nearby in the community and they will invest in the community,” as well as provide better service than contract workers.

Acting City Manager Rick Araiza said hiring the temporary employees would be just during the request for proposal process.

Interim Public Works Director Brian Yanez said Carrillo’s comments were valid and that the city had addressed creating a wastewater collection division to maintain the city’s miles of sewer piping, which led to the purchase of the Vactor truck. 

Yanez said the reason bringing the service in-house was not in his report was because he believed the idea was later denied, and Mayor Bob Gonzales asked about timelines. Yanez said the request for proposal should be completed by for the second meeting in April and, since there are already potential candidates, temporary employees could be hired within days. 

Vice Mayor Ralph Fernandez had questions about the Vactor truck and whether or not temporary city employees would be able to operate it.

Yanez noted a truck refresher training session would be held to update not only operators, but also city mechanics on “all the bells and whistles” the Vactor has. The last training was two years ago, and Yanez said the new session would be “an eight-hour day.”

Fernandez said his concerns center on having staff to respond to emergencies and cost, and Yanez confirmed it would be less expensive to have temporary employees than to contract with the VRSD. If the council desired, Yanez said, he could also prepare a cost analysis of providing in-house service.

“It would be worth comparing costs; we should probably be looking at that,” said Fernandez.

The council had other questions on the service and oversight requirements, including potential contractors. Yanez said he has been approached by PERC, which constructed, operates and is the minority owner of the city’s water recycling plant, and VRSD.

Cook noted the city did not have the camera equipment for as needed pipeline inspections, but “I think we’re saving $100,000” by bringing the maintenance service in-house. “We do have hot spots, bad plumbing” that does require occasional camera inspection; and Cook said that, with the city’s aging piping system, avoiding mishaps and resultant liability must be considered.

Cook’s motion to hold off on the item for further study was not seconded.