How to optimally organize the City Maintenance Department?

An overview of the organization of City Maintenance Departments based on a performance test for medium-sized municipalities.
Tessa De Backer

Local councils are constantly evolving to better focus their service provision on their clients. Both the front and back offices are initiating relocations to implement products in the very best place through the most appropriate manner and the right time in an efficient, results-oriented manner. During my project within the City Maintenance Department, I got to experience the extensive range of jobs at the City Maintenance Department. From removing roadkill to creating traffic signs, maintaining the discharge drains, paving the roads, to clearing away the snow: the City Maintenance Department consists of a wide range of jobs where not only expertise is important, but daily management and planning, too.

Citizens, one of the biggest client groups in the cities and towns, only come into contact with the municipal services located in the administrative centre a few times in their lives. In contrast to this, every citizen comes into contact with the public domain and signage within a city or town every day. Moreover, the City Maintenance Department employees are also active within the public scene in most towns and cities. They are, just like the employees working at the counter, the standard bearers for the town or city. Given the scope of the group, the distribution of the working territory – which is these employees’ office – and the management form (primarily small teams of experts managed by a team leader), the City Maintenance Department is the municipal service within which the organization of the jobs, the communication, and potential changes are the biggest challenge.

And yet, the client focus and efficient organization of the legally specified jobs of the City Maintenance Department often escape the attention of many policymakers. This is due to the fact that the jobs within the City Maintenance Department are less visible (given their geographic location), plus these jobs are usually done outside of the administrative services’ opening hours.

At the client’s request, we organized a benchmark of the organization of the City Maintenance Department in seven medium-sized municipalities to supplement the analysis of the processes. From each city, we collected the most significant factors that typically determine how the workforce is deployed within the City Maintenance Department: the surface area of the municipality, the length of km of roads and sewer systems to be maintained, the landscaped area to be maintained, the number of trash bins to be emptied, the number of events requiring support, the number of occupied buildings, etc.   In addition, we requested to see the annual budget for expenditures, operations, and investments and the number of FTE utilized per process.

Despite this static comparison, the benchmark produced the following insights:

  1. The City Maintenance Departments are responsible for 25 to 40% of the total number of FTE that are active within the city. The optimal organization of this service and the realization of gains in efficiency thus have a very large impact on the city’s or town’s functioning.
  2. The councils have incredibly diversified approaches. Chiefly, the deployment of employees is the result of employee shifts and retirements, which means that the distribution of the number of available FTE across the processes is unrelated to the quantitative characteristics of the process. The number of FTE that supports the landscape maintenance is, e.g. not dependent upon the surface area of the landscape to be maintained. This is an opportunity for many local councils, considering that this offers opportunities for training employees and deploying them where necessary.
    In addition, we also noted that the management context differs significantly. Although the number of managing FTE runs parallel to the number of operational FTE, the interpretation of the organization is different. Some councils have an intermediate level of coordinators between the head of the service and the team leader; other councils have supervisors or team managers who report to the team leaders. Several councils also work with experts who prepare the jobs, while others have team leaders who take care of this task. The process for drawing up the planning is also significantly different. Within some councils, the planner assigns work orders to the teams; within others, the team managers are responsible for this task.
    The planning is crucial to the efficient functioning of the City Maintenance Department. The planning must take both the scheduled, long-term projects and the urgent work orders that must be completed into account. Thus, sound planning takes the occurrence of urgent work orders into account at specific times of the year. In addition to this, proper planning takes the utilization of resources (both employees and machinery) into account as well, so that the machinery is as profitable as possible.
  3. A council’s policy is most often translated in expenditure decisions. We identified three patterns: municipalities that carry out practically all jobs independently, municipalities that outsource more jobs than they organize internally and municipalities that have a mixed job organization (a combination of outsourcing and internal organization).
    The jobs that are outsourced are jobs that can be defined well and with results that are easy to evaluate. In our benchmark, several councils outsourced landscape maintenance, as well as building maintenance.
    It is incredibly important to take various factors into account when making outsourcing decisions. The organization’s management must consider several standardized factors in each process: what is the city’s or town’s strategy, how many FTE will be deployed in this process, do we want to be dependent upon the market, what social projects can be linked to this, which inter municipal partnerships can we achieve, etc.

Our client found it very educational to compare its results to the results of the councils included in the Belfius cluster. The results of the benchmark, together with the results of our analysis of the functioning, resulted in an action plan with four pillars (Organization of the City Maintenance Department with a focus on leadership and culture; Planning of the work orders; Optimization of the client interaction; and Improvement of the supporting processes).

Would you like to know your municipality’s score or how you can more efficiently set up your services, then please don’t hesitate to contact us!

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