Editorial: Merger good move for city

It makes sense for the City of Lawrence to look at merging the city’s utilities and public works departments.

City staff is recommending the merger as a means of achieving greater efficiencies without sacrificing service.

“We know that we have serious challenges in terms of revenue streams and being able to increase those, and so our belief is we have to be more efficient in our operations just to maintain the services that we have and potentially expand on some of those services,” City Manager Tom Markus said. “I think our goal at this point is to be able to preserve the services and do things a lot smarter than we have in the past.”

City officials said a review of the departments began last year, and the city formed a team of employees from both departments and held numerous focus groups. The review showed significant similarities in functions of the two departments.

A list of 11 benefits of a merger were identified including better use of resources, streamlined processes and better asset management. Brandon McGuire, assistant to the city manager, said merging the departments also would improve project planning and communication.

The newly merged department would be called Municipal Services and Operations and will maintain virtually all city infrastructure above and below ground, with the exception of Parks and Recreation assets. A new director of the merged departments will be identified.

Employees will not lose their jobs because of the merger. Instead, the city will continue to look for savings as attrition occurs. As employees leave the department, the city will evaluate their positions and determine whether they should be filled.

Lawrence city commissioners will discuss the proposed merger at a work session tonight. Given the work that has gone into the proposed merger by city staff, commissioners would be wise to get behind the merger of the utilities and public works departments and to actively seek similar opportunities for increased efficiencies within city departments.