Making the most of it
There is no shortage of examples of ingenuity at the Rifle Operations and Maintenance grounds off Highway 6.
One of the outbuildings that protects tools and other items was constructed out of railroad ties and steel cross beams that were unearthed during construction of the Brenden Rifle 7 movie theater. The tin siding is from the old lumber facility that sat at the same location.
One of the large lifts in the fleet garage was found abandoned in a field and refurbished — saving around $17,000.
Just inside the main entrance hangs a side that reads “days without a time lost accident.” On Tuesday, Oct. 13, the days totaled 1,015 — although that is not entirely accurate because the sign that hung before the new digital one was added was well into the 300s.
The crew that works at the facility is responsible for routine road and bridge maintenance, snow removal, maintenance of heavy equipment and city vehicles, road kill removal, and a number of other responsibilities.
Consisting of only 10 employees, the team at the facility represents a level of efficiency in a time where budget constraints demand that municipal departments do more with less. Much of that can be attributed to Public Works Superintendent Bobby O’Dell.
“I’m a taxpayer just like you and I feel you should work hard for you money, but also know where that money is coming from. It’s coming from you and me,” he said.
In explaining the countless examples of savings — mainly recycled materials and policies aimed at maximizing safety and productivity — O’Dell repeatedly asserts that the credit does not belong to one person, but the entire team.
“A boss is only as good as his people and I’ve got a great team of people,” O’Dell said. “I cannot say enough about my guys. It truly is a team and everybody’s ideas are heard.” His guys will tell you the same.
“It’s an awesome place to work,” said Jason Novinger, one of the newer members of the team. “Everybody makes everything go great.”
O’Dell is serious when he says it is a collective effort. That team meets twice a week, once to discuss safety and a second time to bounce around ideas to improve efficiency. No one is discouraged from speaking.
Still, it’s O’Dell’s philosophy toward efficiency and fiscal responsibility that trickles down through the team. Almost everything can be used, he explains. Driving across the bridge into Rifle years ago, O’Dell came across a large piece of wood sitting in the road. He pulled over to put it in his truck, but it was too heavy. Ultimately, six people barely loaded the piece of wood into the truck. Today it serves as a table surface used for cutting materials.
“We try to keep an eye out for stuff that people lose of their truck. We call [the police department] of course, but if nobody claims it we try to make use of it,” he said.
The stories behind items such as the table and the outbuilding made of old railroad materials caught the attention of the new City Council members on a recent tour of city facilities.
“If there’s anyone doing everything to maximize taxpayer dollars, it’s Bobby,” said Councilor Theresa Hamilton.
It’s impossible to give an approximate dollar amount on the savings resulting from the team’s habit of recycling, although it likely runs in the tens of thousands of dollars, O’Dell said.
Regardless, the fact is the practice provides the department with tools it otherwise would not have due to fiscal constraints, said City Manager Matt Sturgeon. While other departments have implemented cost saving measures, O’Dell takes it to another level that Sturgeon said he has not seen during his entire career in public service.
“He’s getting stuff done that otherwise would not happen.”
However, O’Dell’s firm belief in responsible use of taxpayer dollars goes beyond junk picking.
He discovered a free app called Voxer that allows the employees to communicate on their smart phones like a walkie-talkie. The app stores messages so they can be played back, and it also shares the GPS coordinates of each team member.
You have to stay up on technology, O’Dell said.
He also has rules and expectations of his employees intended to keep them safe. The Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency awarded him the 2013 safety champion award, which “recognizes individuals and groups who went above and beyond the call of duty in championing safety within their entities.”
Some of the policies might seem extreme, O’Dell laughs and says some the employees have diagnosed him with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but there is a reason behind all of it.
The tactics, which include surprise tests, do not appear to have weakened the team’s affinity for the job or O’Dell.
“He’s one of the reasons I came to work here,” said Dave James, the loan fleet mechanic responsible for maintaining the city’s more than 100 vehicles.
James recently accompanied O’Dell to haul an old boat trailer from a resident’s yard. O’Dell gave the man $100 for the trailer and hauled it off. James remembered questioning the move, seeing as how the department does not own a boat.
O’Dell had a plan though. The department recently acquired an old Colorado River Fire Rescue truck with a large pump on the back. The truck was exchanged as rent for an entire year — O’Dell helped bring in CRFR to the facility as a way to build a tighter relationship with an important community partner, as well as generate some revenue by renting the space to the agency.
The pump, O’Dell explained, is going to be placed on the trailer so the team can use it to pump out water when responding to a water line break. The result is the city will not have to contract with a private company. Chuckling at the memory of hauling away the boat ramp, James shared the conclusion that typically follows such excursions.
“It all comes together and works.”
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Aquatic species in the Colorado River weathered the summer’s debris flow events better than Colorado Parks and Wildlife anticipated, a CPW spokesperson said.