Director of Public Works
Charlotte County, Florida
Harry C. Lorick
Principal, LA Consulting, Inc.
El Segundo, California
Six-figure savings in the first six months of road and stormwater maintenance system implementation may sound too good to be true, but Charlotte County, Florida, got just that and more. An innovative Maintenance Management System (MMS) initiated for Charlotte County generated savings of more than $750,000 in the first six months of operation plus $500,000 in the following year. These savings were attributable to improved planning, work identification, scheduling, new crew configurations, and following maintenance activity guidelines.
The changes were implemented in an environment of considerable skepticism on the part of citizen advisory committees involved in budgeting, planning and work review. From the start of system design and implementation, a partnership was needed with the public to help guide management of an extensive 2,110-centerline mile roadway network. This large road system presents unique maintenance issues as nearly 60 percent was built within areas platted in the 1960s and 1970s, with the density of residential and commercial development that was actually built varying widely today. The 20-plus individual citizen committees that existed prior to the MMS were incorporated into the system design and implementation and are now much more supportive of the County's maintenance efforts.
Charlotte County, with 143,000 residents (129,000 unincorporated), is located in Southwest Florida, 100 miles south of Tampa along the Gulf of Mexico. The one incorporated city, Punta Gorda, has consistently been rated by Money Magazine as one of the most desirable small U.S. cities in which to live.
The County is geographically divided into three areas. West County is from the Gulf of Mexico to the Myakka River. Mid-County is between the Myakka River and Peace River. South County is south and east of the Peace River. In much of the unincorporated area, the land is subdivided into hundreds of thousands of residential lots, both developed and undeveloped. Extensive sections of the platted areas are sparsely populated.
In addition to the 2,110 centerline road miles, there are 450 drainage way miles and 94 traffic signals, all maintained through three maintenance yards with 105 employees. The County's Public Works Division, with an annual budget of approximately $62 million, maintains all public roads in the County except those under the jurisdiction of the Florida Department of Transportation and streets located within the City of Punta Gorda.
Funding and Citizen Involvement
The County funds its transportation network from two primary sourcesâ€”fuel taxes and non-ad valorem assessments, but not (general fund) property taxes. The arterial and major collector system (Road and Bridge District) is supported by the fuel tax base; while the local (residential) roadways are funded by the property assessments levied through 40 separate street and drainage maintenance units. There are two types of assessmentsâ€”Municipal Services Benefit Units (MSBUs) and Municipal Services Taxing Units (MSTUs). MSBUs are benefit districts where assessments must directly correlate to the benefits accrued (the largest MSBU is Greater Port Charlotte located in Mid-County with over 60,000 quarter-acre residential lots). Municipal Services Taxing Units (MSTUs), of which there are relatively few in comparison to the number of MSBUs, do use ad valorem property assessments to generate revenue.
Given the yield of the various gas taxes levied, the 210-mile Road and Bridge system is projected by Public Works to be adequately funded over the next 20-year period to support maintenance and rehabilitation needs, but not capacity improvements such as widening or building new roadways to handle more traffic. The local roadway system spread out through the various MSBUs, however, is in a much different situation, with maintenance and rehabilitation needs exceeding resources by a considerable margin. A recent projection identified that estimated maintenance and rehabilitation needs over the next 20 years for local roadways would exceed funding by over $135 million.
Funding of the local roadway system varies within each of the MSBUs, reflecting in considerable measure citizen attitudes shaped over many years of perceived slow, inefficient, and ineffective maintenance performance by the County. Compounding the problem is the fact that the actual road and drainage infrastructure created by the land developers within the individual MSBUs also varied widely as to capacity and structural sufficiency, which has resulted in extremes of conditions and associated maintenance demand. In fact, the MSBU/MSTU system was explicitly created in the 1980s with the objective of localizing resource generation for maintenance and improvements, but with other areas of the community not sharing the cost burden. While the fundamental premise resulting in the proliferation of individual districts is arguable, today's reality is that the MSBUs do exist, work done within each of them is very visible, and there is an ongoing critical need for effective and efficient performance and management processes.
There is a separate budget and detailed maintenance work program for each of the 40 individual MSBUs; all expenditures are separately accounted, and any proposed substantial assessment rate increase typically requires a formal public hearing for the specific unit. Further, citizen committees have input in the formulation of annual work programs and budgets, assessment levels, and priorities/scheduling of work to be accomplished. The committees meet regularly with County coordinators to review work done in terms of cost, productivity, and schedule accomplishments. All of this communication and coordination has a cost, which must be carefully managed to assure that overhead/administration are kept to an absolute minimum.
Prior to the establishment of the MMS, the County had no automated system in place unifying work planning, scheduling, and cost accounting. Without either overall maintenance strategies or specific performance goals tied to adopted levels of service, it was difficult to determine how crews should be staffed, equipped, and deployed. Documenting results, productivity, cost and accomplishment were likewise difficult, with the annual budget formulation process therefore problematic.
Other circumstances complicated the County-public interface as well. Inadequate drainage systems are maintenance-intensive, and have accelerated roadway deterioration. Further, a very high percentage of the population consists of those who have relocated from other parts of the U.S., and are unfamiliar with the environmental, topographical and infrastructure issues within a subtropical region. Hence, scarce resources in some cases were being continuously diverted to respond to localized complaints of standing water and vegetation growth, a normal occurrence in Southwest Florida. Additionally, in terms of age, Charlotte County is the second oldest county in the United States. While demanding more in short-term service delivery, in general the retiree component of the population has insisted that resource generation through the MSBU assessments be austere, and in some cases inadequate, to the detriment of longer range, and demonstrably more effective and efficient, life-cycle cost-based infrastructure management.
Implementing the MMS
In 1996, Charlotte County recognized the need to comprehensively restructure its maintenance approach to be more business-like, creating an integrated system focused on effective, efficient service performance. But recognizing the need was only the start, and one year was required to "sell" the project, which was commenced in 1997. By early 1998, with the involvement of representatives from key advisory committees, the MMS was up and running. Since then, maintenance forces have used the MMS to manage their work, from inventorying facilities to creating budgets, scheduling, and accomplishing annual programs, tracking cost and productivity for all activities performed. Most importantly, the approach is proactive/predictive, rather than reactive, and assures a long-term infrastructure management perspective.
With the performance demonstrated since MMS implementation, the nature of citizen advisory committee relations has changed dramatically. Monthly status reports are generated from the MMS system and distributed to the committees, which hold quarterly "business meetings" tracking progress toward completion of the annual work program, rather than the all too often complaint sessions of the past. This shift was dramatically evidenced recently when the Englewood East committee, an active group representing the second largest MSBU, requested an assessment increase. At the required public hearing, the desire of the community to fund a higher level of service was expressed, and the increase was approved. The enhanced work program was "priced out" cooperatively by the Public Works Division and citizens advisory committee using inventory, cost, and productivity information residing in the MMS.
With deployment of the MMS, several years of actual cost and productivity information have been built up in the databases for all of the 80-plus activities, including the following:
What Citizen Participation Really Means
As previously discussed, establishment of the MSBUs that fund all residential road and stormwater systems maintenance continues to involve much more citizen input than normally seen by a county road agency. In some cases, citizens have even assisted in inventorying facilities, to become more familiar with the types, extents, and conditions of systems being maintained. This and other involvement can be characterized by the "pluses and minuses" summarized below:
Fourteen positions not needed to perform maintenance services at the enhanced levels of services were "banked," to be held vacant until needed in the future as the population increases. With "directed maintenance" a two-year-plus backlog that existed in 1998, primarily in drainage activities that comprise over one-half of maintenance services, has been reduced to less than two months in 2001. The associated real savings are the cumulative results of many factors such as:
The transition process was not completely seamless, as it required changes in culture, approaches, and methods. A change of this magnitude required educating all personnel associated with maintenance processes on the "how and why" for the changes, and gaining their buy-in to participate. Since the implementation was predominantly "ground up" rather than "top down," everyone was involved in and could see the need for:
Recurring maintenance accounts for a major portion of the County's public works budget. A Maintenance Management System was developed to assure that maintenance dollars are "rightly" and efficiently spent. The system now in place for Charlotte County puts the right people, materials and equipment on the right job at the right time using the right methods. In addition, improved participation of citizen advisory committees has established an ongoing County/community partnership empowering all parties in taking a hands-on role in enhancing operations. Citizens now contribute organized, useful input to work planning and evaluation of accomplishments, instead of believing they need to exert "more control."
Craig McConnell is Director of Public Works for Charlotte County, Florida, and can be reached at 904-575-3600 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Harry C. Lorick is Principal of LA Consulting, established in 1993. The company provides a wide variety of planning, systems and technology services applied to public agencies and municipalities, with an emphasis on systems implementation and technical support for public works operations and maintenance. The firm's corporate headquarters is in El Segundo, California, about 20 miles west of Los Angeles. Mr. Lorick can be contacted at 310-416-9697 or by e-mail at email@example.com.