Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

This coverage is made possible by a grant from The Saint Paul Foundation.

Summer interns, armed with iPads, save Minneapolis $250,000

After the success of a summer intersection-mapping project, Minneapolis is considering other ways iPads might save time on public works projects.

A group of Public Works summer interns, armed with iPads, has saved Minneapolis about $250,000.

The interns completed a federally mandated inventory of the city’s 5,100 intersections — cataloging some 16,000 sidewalk “elements” in a little more than three months, instead of the expected eight months.

The quick work, aided by technology, saved half of the project’s estimated $500,000 cost, according to City Engineer Steve Kotke.

“We learned a lot about iPads,” Kotke told members of the City Council’s Ways and Means/Budget Committee. He explained how the interns were able to measure the grade of sidewalks and take photos with the devices.

The folks in charge of snow removal were paying attention. When it snows this winter, they will use iPads for Project “Snow Tracks” to identify the status of a street and to move people and machinery to problem areas more quickly than in the past.

The report was part of the proposed 2013 budget overview for the Department of Public Works, the city’s largest at $308.6 million, up $2.6 million from this year. The department would employ 954 full-time-equivalent workers, up 43 from this year.

The increased staffing reflects the possibility that workers in Traffic Control, now part of Regulatory Services, could be transferred to Public Works as part of a reorganization.

Public Works’ General Fund budget would total $52.2 million, up $6.1 million, again because of the possible Traffic Control transfer.

The department’s two biggest General Fund expenses cover snow removal and street maintenance, coming in at nearly 40 percent of the total. Of the money spent on snow removal and street maintenance, 42 percent comes from money that is not property tax revenue. That would include grants from the state and federal governments.

Kotke pointed out that expenses for street maintenance are fairly predictable and include pothole patching, seal-coating and crack repair.

Snow removal, however, is another matter.

“Snow and ice removal continues to be the largest program in Public Works,” with most of the expense related to labor costs, Kotke said. Reviewing last winter, he told council members, “When it doesn’t snow, we try to move as many people off snow removal to other projects as possible.”

snow plow
MinnPost photo by Karen Boros
Snow removal is Minneapolis’ largest public works project.

The proposed snow-removal budget — set at $11.9 million for 2013, up $600,000 — is based on five-year averages for snowfall. Allotted money that is not spent in the budget year is rolled over and distributed to departments and programs in need of expansion.

If Traffic Control — the people who monitor meters and direct traffic flow at events — is merged with Public Works, it would become part of Traffic and Parking Services, which already has a “close working relationship” with that staff, according to Kotke.

The 2013 budget also contains money to upgrade old traffic signals to better synchronize their operation and move traffic more efficiently. Most of the funding would come from state and federal grants.

In other services, the city will be transitioning from multi-sort recycling to one-sort. Under the change, the current $7 monthly recycling credit will end come January, but a $7 cut in the base fee for garbage collection and recycling will keep the monthly charges at $22. 

At the moment, there is a problem with the budget for sanitary sewer charges. The Metropolitan Council, which charges Minneapolis for processing sewage, announced a 6 percent rate increase for 2013 after Mayor R.T. Rybak introduced his budget. That results in a $339,017 gap between the budget and the actual expense. The search for cash is not currently focused on homeowners.

The average monthly bill for homeowners — covering water, sewer, storm water and solid waste pickup — is expected to total $83.98 next year, a monthly increase of $1.38.

Parking revenue, another source of income for Minneapolis, is expected to drop next year. The revenue comes from drivers who park at the 15 city-owned ramps and parking meters. It also includes revenue from the Impound Lot. 

“We see vacancy rates downtown that have an impact on the number of people parking in our ramps,” said Kotke, who also thinks gas prices and the new parking meter system contribute to a projected drop in revenue.

Parking revenue in 2013 is expected to drop 9 percent from $42.6 million this year to $$38.7 million, a loss of $3.9 million.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 10/23/2012 - 11:34 am.

    Federal Mandates

    The article missed the really interesting question: What was the federal mandate and why was this necessary?

    There’s a reason that we have these huge tax deficits and out of control taxes. Why is the federal government involved in your average Mpls street intersection???? Why is Mpls suppose to fork out some $500K to fill out a bunch of federal forms? How much more of this mindless stuff is going on that we don’t even hear about?

    • Submitted by Robert Owen on 10/23/2012 - 01:45 pm.

      Federal Mandate

      The federal mandate is likely because federal grant money pays for some snow removal and street maintenance. But that begs the question – how inefficient is it to send tax money to Washington, D.C. in order to have federal agencies turn around and send some(!) of it back to Minneapolis in the form of grants. It’s like welfare for bureaucrats. Or like paying the mob protection money. Yeah, no one is going to kneecap Minneapolis but a certain percentage is lost to keeping people employed who did nothing to add value to the process.

      • Submitted by John Mark Lucas on 10/23/2012 - 03:30 pm.

        Federal Mandate

        The federal mandate is likely in relation with the Americans with Disabilities Act that requires public agencies to remove barriers to accessibility. This will make our streets accessible to all pedestrians regardless of ability. Good for us all, wheelchairs, pushchairs, canes and all (also people without kneecaps). And if not now, later. It starts with knowing what you have and developing a plan to address the issues.

  2. Submitted by Ryan Braun on 10/23/2012 - 02:10 pm.

    rewarding the interns

    Would it be too much to ask for $10,000 out of the $250,000 to reward the interns with a party?

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 10/23/2012 - 04:17 pm.

    What’s this, about our recycling credit being removed as of January, when we go to one-sort recycling?–
    “In other services, the city will be transitioning from multi-sort recycling to one-sort. Under the change, the current $7 monthly recycling credit will end come January, but a $7 cut in the base fee for garbage collection and recycling will keep the monthly charges at $22. ”

    Sanitary sewer charges will also be up (along with the new base fees for water and sewer–they’re there, no matter how much water you use or don’t use–that were imposed this year. I see no one commenting publicly on any of this==thanks! to Karen Boros for letting this news out before we get a little paper notice with our bills.

    Minneapolis is not good at having residents actually be part of anything that has to do with Public Works, a department with one of the most secretive city cultures around.

Leave a Reply