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Casper weighs hiring vs. outsourcing; Engineering Division down seven employees from 14 in FY 2014

Midwest Avenue reconstruction in spring 2019. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — The City of Casper’s Engineering Division has dropped to a total of seven full-time employees after having 14 full-time employees in fiscal year 2014.

The Casper City Council on Tuesday, January 25 held a discussion weighing the benefits of continuing to rely on outsourcing for work that additional in-house engineers may be able to handle.

The Engineering Division has the following employees:

  • One city engineer
  • Two associate engineers
  • Three engineering technicians
  • One administrative assistant

City Engineer Alex Sveda told the city council that the city has contracted for around $3 million of outside work from both civil and specialty engineers. He said that six larger projects over the past two years have accounted for $700,000 to $800,000 in contract costs.

Design work on smaller projects is often done in-house, according to Sveda, and the Engineering Division currently has about 80 projects. The division’s work overseeing capital projects also involves reviewing subdivisions, site plan proposals and plats as well as project management, permitting and processing record drawings.

The city has not had a city surveyor since 2012 and tasks associated with that role are some of the work that the division contracts out. Sveda told the council that the city has tried on multiple occasions to hire a new city surveyor but that those attempts have been unsuccessful.

When it relies on outside contracts with consultants and developers, that is typically on larger projects that require the expertise of specialty engineers or for project management on larger or longer-term projects, according to Sveda.

Council member Kyle Gamroth asked whether there has been an impact on the quality and quantity of the work the Engineering Division can conduct or an impact on what types of projects and timelines to complete those projects that the division can handle with its workforce down 50% since fiscal year 2014.

Sveda said that while the situation has required the division to outsource more work than it would have with more staff, he doesn’t think that the quality of the work itself has suffered.

After Sveda explained that the Engineering Division has had contract costs of about $3 million over the past two years, Napier said that there may be some economic sense in bringing on a new civil engineer to bring some work back in-house.

Both Sveda and Napier noted that bringing back on some staff wouldn’t eliminate the need to outsource some work, particularly on larger projects that require the expertise of specialists like electrical or environmental engineers.

Napier said that while bringing on new staff could lead to some cost-savings, “I don’t want to tell you that you are going to save $3 million or that you’re going to save $800,000.”

Council member Steve Cathey said he would like to see a breakdown of the money the Engineering Division spends outsourcing work by engineering discipline to help inform a decision about what type of engineer might make sense to hire.

He said that the city could also realize some savings by being careful with what types of projects it takes on, which could limit the need for more specialty work that can’t be done in-house.

Cathey said that he thinks it makes sense to look further into potentially expanding staffing at the division.

Napier told the council that he would likely bring a proposal to budget for a new hire for the council’s consideration after the council indicated an interest in exploring the option further after Tuesday’s discussion.