By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — Elkhart County Commissioners Monday gave their blessing to the hiring of a new engineering position by the Elkhart County Highway Department. Whether it’s approved, however, will depend on the Elkhart County Council.
According to Elkhart County engineer Jay Grossman, the highway department over the past year has done some significant analysis of its engineering needs, the results of which have revealed that it may be possible for the department to cut some of its costs and improve productivity by hiring another full-time engineer.
Through its analysis, the department looked at three main areas when considering the possibility of a new hire, the first being how much it spends annually on design contracts.
“We looked at how much money we currently have in our contract for projects,” Grossman said. “We have four bridge projects in our contract. So currently we have almost $400,000 worth of design contracts out.”
Next to be looked at was how much the departments spends annually on professional engineering and services.
“These projects sometimes stretch out over multiple years, so we looked at how much are we really spending per year on professional engineering and services,” Grossman said. “We looked at the last three years and found we were spending a little over $90,000 a year over the last three years for engineering services.”
The department then finished its analysis by looking at what it felt the best direction would be moving forward for both finances and productivity. Grossman noted that in looking at the department’s 10-year plan, there is currently over $10 million worth of bridge work coming up, with approximately $570,000 of that engineering design work scheduled over just the next four years.
“So I guess we wanted to see the numbers ourselves to see if it really was something to consider hiring another engineer,” Grossman said. “It seems like we’ve definitely spent enough to pay for an engineer over the last few years, and we’ve got a lot of work coming up. In fact, it’s looking like we’re going to have to start ramping up our design work even more so.”
To date, Grossman noted that the County Highway Department currently has three full-time engineers and one part-time engineer who typically works about 20 hours a week. With the desired new hire, Grossman said the department is looking for someone who ideally would be right out of college with a master’s degree who they could start at a salary of around $55,000 to $60,000.
“So that was our thought, and it’s up to you guys whether we pursue that,” Grossman said. “It seems like things are tight and it might be cheaper to hire in-house staff. I think we can show that it will work out to be a savings for us.”
In addition to the possible savings, County Highway Manager Jeff Taylor noted that he has typically seen greater productivity over the long run when dealing with in-house employees vs. contracted employees.
“The quality that we get in terms of design and inspection from our staff is higher than a consulting firm,” Taylor said. “I don’t want to downplay consultants or their staff, but when an employee is doing it, there’s something about the outcome that is a whole lot better. Then once the project is finished, you have somebody on staff who knows how that animal is designed, they know how it was constructed. We’ve just done this long enough that we’ve seen the benefits.”
The commissioners agreed, adding that they would send a positive recommendation on to the county personnel meeting this coming Thursday. However, they noted that the final decision on the new hire is ultimately in the hands of the Elkhart County Council.
“It’s not going to be super smooth sailing, because the council has it in their mind that we need to downsize the entire county government,” said Commissioner Mike Yoder. “So my guess is there will be a little bit of pushback. But I think this makes a ton of sense.”