"The City of Norwalk’s infrastructure is a complex system composed of many moving parts. From the Wastewater Treatment Plant to the maintenance and repair of well over 250 miles of roads, the city workers, engineers, managers, and director do work that affect all Norwalkers. And they do it with fewer people. Since 2003 the staff of the Department of Public Works has been reduced by 24 people.
The past year saw a great deal of positive change. The introduction of Single Stream Recycling, for example, brought a new, convenient, environmentally and economically sound system to our city. Since this program was enacted, recycling is up over 50% across the city. The ease of use for most citizens is the real driver, and even in areas where trash is not collected by the city, the reduction in garbage sent to the landfill is dramatic. I cannot fathom what all the fuss was over and have no idea why I had to fight a vocal minority on the council for this program.
The move to contracted garbage collection in the 4th Taxing District, similar to what had been done for many years in the 6th Taxing District, has also had a significant impact on the citizenry and the budget. As certified by the Director of Finance’s office, the city is ahead of plan to save between $16 and 17 Million over the life of the three contracts that make up the Single Stream Recycling, Trash Collection and Transfer Station Operation. Complaints about garbage collection and recycling are down over 40% in the first year since the switch, and the response to any issues reported is generally within a few hours.
Also, the condition of the city’s roads has begun to improve. Prior to 2005, the Pavement Condition Index had been sinking towards a figure of 70 out of 100. That figure has been rising since the mayor began investing $5 million dollars annually in road repaving. An additional $1 million dollars annually would allow the measurement to rise faster, but the need to balance spending with other needs, including Common Core Curricula materials, has kept us at this reasonable level of spending.
How many people know that Norwalk has been named “Tree City USA” for nine years running? Norwalk was the first Nationwide winner of the Award of Excellence for Community Trees issued jointly by the US Conference of mayors and the Home Depot Foundation. The Annual Tree Festival has become a destination event for a variety of tree related environmentally friendly exhibits and hosts a significant number of guests.
The Traffic Signal Upgrade projects, which the council has authorized, and Public Works has received grants to implement, is a real game changer. A system of linked signals with the ability to detect traffic queuing and organically or remotely change the pattern to enable smoother flow is being installed in 3 phases, funded 100%via federal grant. The upgrades will continue and new grants will continue to be pursued. The system is state of the art and also allows for integration with police and fire vehicles to allow for quicker emergency response.
The award winning Wastewater Treatment Plant has recently undergone a $40 million upgrade, also funded through grant money and low interest loans, and is now state of the art. Additional improvements are soon to be made to allow the 22 pumping stations to be operated centrally.
The Information Technology aspect of Public Works is often overlooked. Snow plows and other trucks have been fitted with GPS to allow for remote monitoring and management, increasing efficiencies. The location, speed and direction of every vehicle is known at all times. The system can even tell if a plow is up or down and the rate at which salt is being spread.
Additionally, the Customer Service function enables the Public Works Department to take in information from the public and to prioritize work orders. This allows for speedy repairs and maintenance, it increases the amount accomplished, and decreases overhead costs. The IT backbone supports the customer service function via the web and telephone and allows for updates from staff in the field for feedback.
Finally, the department hosts an annual Open House in conjunction with the Norwalk Fire Department. More than 1500 Norwalkers, of all ages, get to experience the day to day operations of all of these systems. Trucks are available for kids to climb through. The wastewater treatment process is explained. There are demonstrations of recycling, sewer crawl cameras, parking enforcement scooters, and traffic signals -- all part of an interestingSaturday.
I have been proud to be the chairman of the Public Works Committee of the Common Council and support the work of the department and to fight to make the changes that allow us to save and continue to provide the necessary services we do.
I have been disappointed in claims that the workers of the department are not keeping roads maintained, etc., and I hope this clears up some misunderstandings.