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

They completed a federally mandated inventory of the city’s 5,100 intersections in a little more than three months, instead of the expected eight months.

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

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.

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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.

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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.