Current city staffing can’t keep up with demand caused by the total number of projects, including those within the Mobile City Council-approved Capital Improvement Program, a consultant confirmed Tuesday afternoon.
John Guilfoyle, a project management consultant hired by the city in 2016, told councilors if solutions can’t be found for the demand issue, delivery of the sweeping district-by-district program would be delayed.
Along with CIP, city staffers are dealing with a number of federally funded projects, as well as a number of city-specific projects that have stacked up over time, he said. On average, project volume for staffers has increased from $5 million per year to about $60 million per year.
“The CIP is just one piece of a much larger puzzle,” Guilfoyle said. “There’s a lot more at stake than just the CIP.”
A number of solutions were discussed at the meeting, including hiring more employees and the possible outsourcing of larger projects to outside firms. However, the change that caused the greatest deal of pushback from councilors was a suggestion by Guilfoyle to combine smaller projects into larger contracts in order to streamline the process.
“Prior to having meetings on new, scaled-down projects, councilors should be involved in finding priorities,” Council Vice President Levon Manzie said. “I don’t want the priorities to be out of alignment with what is in the interest of my district. I don’t want to waste a bunch of time.”
Guilfoyle made project team members available for “drop-in sessions” related to those priorities on Thursday. Longer face-to-face meetings would happen later on, he said.
A crude example is essentially, the city would bundle similar projects together and pay for them in bulk using CIP funds from one year. As Guifoyle explained, the city might decide to gather all of the smaller park projects together and do all the park improvements at once. This would mean, of course, other projects might be put off until another day.
“They’ll be larger projects but there will be fewer of them,” City Engineer Nick Amberger said. “If we don’t make a change, it’s going to come to a point where we can’t deliver.”
To further crystalize the point, Mayor Sandy Stimpson used Manzie’s own district as an example. He said that if Manzie picked 10 projects, not all of the projects would probably get done, but if he picked three larger projects they probably would.
Stimpson also asked councilors to move a bit quicker on approving contracts for CIP work. Under unofficial rules governing contracts related to CIP work, the council will not approve any item exceeding $50,000 on the first read. Typically Councilman John Williams — in the interest of transparency — will regularly withhold unanimous consent on these items, meaning a vote gets delayed for a week.
“We have to cut a step out,” Stimpson told councilors. “We’ve got to have transparency, but even if you hold things up a week, projects start to stack on top of each other.”
During the meeting Williams said he is willing to make changes to that practice if it helps move things along.
“I will entertain reasonable relief on the CIP items being held over,” he said. “We can’t go back to the old way where it hits [the agenda] on a Thursday and on a Tuesday, we vote.”
Stimpson took some blame himself for the delivery backlog, adding that he should’ve hired more staff a year ago.
Regardless of what happens with the CIP delivery in the future, Manzie said the City Council would keep an eye on the proceedings.
“I’m open to this,” he said. “The CIP was created by the seven individuals sitting here … We’re protective of this process and will continue to be protective of it.”
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