BELLEAIR BLUFFS — A big change in the city’s Public Works Department’s operation has come with the hiring of Russ Schmader last year. A shift from outsourcing of projects to having city employees do the work is happening.

And the city is beginning to see big cost savings as a result.

The benefits of the change from outsourcing to in-house handling of public works projects was apparent as Schmader described two recent jobs at the Feb. 11 City Commission meeting.

The first addressed a depression caused by a collapsed unused pipe on Del Rio Drive and the second, a much larger project, is replacing an important drainage pipe at 20th Street and Southwind Drive.

Both projects, Schmader said, were used as on-the-job training for city workers so they will be able to handle similar jobs in the future.

Mayor Chris Arbutine said he visited both sites and was “very impressed” with the work done.

“You guys did a heck of a job,” Arbutine said, adding that he could see the difference “between the county just trying to do something and get out, and people (from Belleair Bluffs) that really care.”

The collapsed pipe on Del Rio was actually an old terracotta pipe that was used over a century ago to drain the orange groves that covered the area. It caused a depression in the road that needed to be fixed. The city crew dug the pipe up and made the needed road repair, using rented equipment.

“We used it as on-the-job training,” Schmader said.

That job saved the city about $2,500 over what a contracted service would have cost.

An even bigger savings is expected from the 20th Street project, Arbutine said. Preliminary estimates to replace an old metal drainage pipe using contracted services were around $50,000. The estimated cost for city workers to do the job using rented equipment is around $6,500, saving the city over $40,000.

“We had our people going out there doing a project we would normally have had to sub out. Now these guys are doing it,” Arbutine said

“What a huge difference (from previous times),” said City Administrator Debra Sullivan. “We were able to rent equipment, and (Schmader) has the knowledge and experience to do a project and train staff how to do it. That is the cost savings right there,” she said.

“It was a very complicated project. A huge deal,” Arbutine said.

Sullivan said Schmader just completed his initial six months on the job, having been hired last August. She said he was given a “glowing review” and she is “thrilled” that he intends to maintain his employment with Belleair Bluffs.

Code enforcement unfair, resident says

Resident Darlene Kavanagh said code enforcement in the city is focused on RVs, boats and commercial vehicles, while other issues are not being addressed.

“I hear construction noises every single day,” she said. “And I go around the city on Sunday, and see construction going on” when it is disallowed.

“I see businesses with flashing lights, dogs in the park, people doing actual business out of their garages, front yards, back yards, whatever,” she said.

Code enforcement officer Tony D’Angelo said to Kavanagh that the city has had hundreds of ongoing code violations.

“I’m constantly staying on top of it and some things get resolved and others don’t,” he said.

Kavanagh said she sees “a pattern of some things getting handled more than others. And that’s not fair.”

D’Angelo told Kavanagh she has to report violations, either to the police or City Hall, when she sees them, a step Kavanagh appeared reluctant to do.

“I get insulted at City Hall,” she said, a charge City Administrator Sullivan denied.

“I encourage you to call,” D’Angelo repeated.

Kavanagh said after the meeting she believes the code enforcement officer should see the ordinance violations as he goes around the city, so calls should not be necessary.

D’Angelo does code enforcement work for the city 12 hours a week.