Calling it a move that will save taxpayers money and keep millage rates low, the Richmond Hill City Council voted unanimously Tuesday against keeping the private company OMI to run the city’s public works department next year.
The measure becomes effective Jan. 1 and officials said it will save more than $350,000 — a figure based on OMI’s $3 million annual budget and the city’s plan to hire Braddy Enterprises Public Works Division LLC of Savannah to run Richmond Hill’s utilities on an interim basis for about $2.6 million annually.
The move is part of a plan to bring operation of the city’s utilities “in house,” according to Mayor Harold Fowler.
“We’re going into a new wastewater treatment plant that’s going to cost us between $25-28 million and we feel like we probably need to put all of this back in house,” he said. “That way we will have somebody who works for the city who will know all about the wastewater treatment plant, rather than have a contractor operating it for us.”
The new wastewater treatment plant, the single-biggest expenditure in the city’s history, is expected to be operational in 2015.
City Manager Chris Lovell said other considerations included gaining manpower for the city’s park and tree operations that’s currently devoted to OMI two days a week.
OMI took over the running of the city’s utilities in 1999. It is a subsidiary of Colorado-based CH2M Hill, one of the largest firms of its kind in the nation. Started in Hinesville, OMI now handles public works for 14 municipalities around the U.S.
A spokesperson for CH2M Hill/OMI said in an email Friday the company hopes to meet with city officials soon.
“It’s been our pleasure to serve the city for the past 13 years. We’re very proud of the strong performance of our people and their dedication to the community,” said Susan Mays, vice president for marketing and strategic initiatives. “We look forward to meeting with city officials directly to discuss their decision and our path forward. We remain fully committed to delivering the best possible public works services for the citizens of Richmond Hill.”
The issue arose near the end of Tuesday’s council meeting and Lovell and Fowler both recommended that council approve the measure.
Mayor Pro-Tem Van Hunter followed with a motion in favor of the change in utility management, saying it was “an opportunity to save the city and taxpayers a substantial amount of money and maintain the same level of services we currently provide.”
The decision to drop OMI is another in a series of actions officials say are aimed at cutting costs. Earlier Tuesday, the city voted to switch its phone and Internet provider to Comcast from CenturyLink, saying it was a savings of about $700 a month.
And in January, the city renegotiated its contract with The Wilderman Group to run the City Center, which will save Richmond Hill about $560,000 annually, officials said.