News Flash

Columbus News

Posted on: October 31, 2023



“City Government 101” is an ongoing series that debuted in April 2023 and highlights different aspects of municipal government as it pertains to Columbus, Nebraska, in hopes to provide information on how the City of Columbus operates.

Every City of Columbus department head was recently asked some questions in regard to their department, the current fiscal year budget and plans for their department in the upcoming fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2023-Sept. 30, 2024).

DEPARTMENT: Engineering


(Interview conducted in September 2023)

Q: How many people are in your department?

A: Seven full-time employees. Depending on the needs, we may hire a summer interim, which is typically a student wanting to learn more about engineering and/or land surveying.

Q: How long have you been head of your department?

A: Started spring 2014. My previous 24 years were at a consulting engineering and land surveying firm in Columbus, working my way up through the ranks to vice president.

Q: How do you think things went for your department in fiscal year 2022-2023?

A: The department has been and remains very busy as we try to provide as many services which is allowed by professional law and we can fit into our workload. A portion of our work is required by the State of Nebraska by a City Engineer of a first-class city in order to receive state and federal funding. These include such things as annual street superintendent certification, highway allocation funding certification, federal funds purchase program funding certification, ADA Title IV and Section 504 certification, ADA transition plan, bridge certifications, highway bridge buyback program, 1&6 Year Road program, pavement management plan, floodplain administration, municipal separate storm sewer system compliance, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers levee and flood control compliance, improvement district creation and special assessments, state statute project delivery systems, and so forth. I am the City’s Street Superintendent of record, the City’s only Class “A” Street Superintendent on staff, which allows the City to obtain the full highway allocation dollar funding possible. The department has other assigned duties, such as subdivision platting, site plan reviews, stormwater pollution protection plans, right-of-way permitting, computer maintenance management system, geographical information system (GIS) operation, aerial and GIS mapping, addressing, and more which were all successfully completed. Many of the engineering departments projects are working in conjunction with other city departments on their capital improvement projects (CIPs). We have completed numerous projects and others are ongoing from the last fiscal year.

Q: What were at least two of your department’s biggest accomplishments in the last fiscal year (and why?)?

A: The department delivered the Columbus Community Building on time and on budget through events such as COVID, supply chain production issues, and unprecedented material and labor cost increases.  We worked proactively on these issues with the general contractor and our own contractors/suppliers for the project.  Although work remains from supply chain issue items as well as the completion of the east parking lot, one of the City’s largest projects in history was delivered successfully. We have heard from other comparable communities inquiring about how we went about this project and work.

The department provided design, land surveying, and construction observation services removing the need to hire and pay consulting engineers. The result was a sales tax savings over $1,000,000, which is typical annually. This cost estimate does not include the department’s consulting engineers and architect project administration and overviews. We routinely have 40-50 projects annually which does not include potential projects, long term evaluations, or routine annual services.  Prior to 2014, in house design services was not common and was one of the reasons the City wanted to transform the department with a City Engineer who has this knowledge and expertise. The addition of a project engineer to the department staff in 2023 has furthered this process, resulting in additional cost savings, efficiencies and lowering final deliverable timelines.

Q: What are some of the problems your department faced in the last fiscal year and how did you overcome them?

A: Supply chain issues and contractor/subcontractor availability continued to hamper project construction, timelines, costs and completion. The department developed a tracking system for projects, including a cost and material matrix, in order to have an ongoing and real time status update. In order to be proactive, we continue to develop relationships with contractors, subcontractors and suppliers to learn of their issues allowing us to look ahead at long material lead time items, projected material increases, or labor limitations.

The subdivision coordination has improved, but on occasion does provide some challenges working with several different land surveyors, engineers, attorneys, and developers. However, the implementation of a development review team meeting standard agenda and continued tweaking of the on-line submittal software making it easier to use and is helping with these issues.  We continually assist developers with education of the codes, ordinance, state statutes and federal law. The required amount of review and oversight seems to always take longer than developer’s like to proceed at.

Q: What are at least 3 major things you’re wanting your department to accomplish in fiscal year 2023-2024 and how is the new budget going to improve that?

A: 1. We want to reduce or eliminate the need for individual storm water treatment facilities within each development, by developing a storm water treatment bank for developers to buy into.  The 2023-2024 budget includes funding for the study and to locate public property locations for these banks within various portions of the City.  The concept is to allow developers to purchase the water quality volumes required for development at a City-owned and maintained facility, eliminate the need for on-site treatment, increase developable and taxable property, eliminate small poorly maintained facilities, and remain in compliance with the Federal and State municipal separate storm sewer system requirements.  The costs for buying into the bank and maintenance will need to be determined, but long term it would result in less cost to the developer or homeowner’s association.

2. Affordable housing has always been an issue in our community.  In order to help keep costs to developers lower, the department is now staffed to provide subdivision design and construction phase services.  Internally we have decades of experience designing subdivisions and has the knowledge and expertise to provide these services.  The addition of a Project Engineer will allow this work to be done in house resulting in savings of tens of thousands of dollars by not needing to pay consulting engineers and land surveyors.  The developer costs can be kept lower which should allow for a lower house price point and increase in workforce residential housing options. The 2023-2024 budget includes CIP funding for these residential developments.

3. Complete the continued projects this fiscal year which are carryovers from last fiscal year. There are commonly 20 to 25 multi-fiscal year projects or continuation of studies into design in which budgeting was provided to complete the project.  2023-2024 budgeting of these continued projects are in place to complete the work and services.

Q: What can the public expect from your department in the next fiscal year?

A: Continuation of in-house design, land surveying and construction observation, resulting in annual saving of sales tax dollars and providing value to constituents.  We will continue to provide the required Federal and State services to remain in good standing and allow for grants and other funding opportunities. We will also continue our program for education with developers, contractors, consulting engineers, land surveyors and attorneys to provide greater efficiency and continuity all within the federal, state, and local requirements.

Copyright © 2023 City of Columbus

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