Good government requires the people being engaged and ready to hold public officials accountable. The following question was submitted to the Rapid City Journal’s “Two Cents” column.
The City of Rapid City as well as most other municipalities in America utilize professional contracts for architecture and engineering services for a number of reasons.
1. Consultants have the resources to get the jobs done in a reasonable time. Due to a general and varied workload, City staff members do not have the ability to dedicate a solid work day or work week to complete specialized projects. In addition to managing multiple projects, City staff is continuously responding to questions and requests from customers such as citizens, business owners, other agencies, other City departments and elected officials.
2. Consultants have specialized expertise. It is not cost effective for the City to employ staff that has the expertise in designing complicated projects such as a Government Building, a Street, a Swimming Pool or Dam spillway replacement that are rarely constructed. In addition, the specialized computer systems and software necessary for such specialized projects would be very expensive to maintain.
3. Consultants have industry knowledge. One example is the recent utility rate study contract awarded to a national engineering firm, HDR Inc. This contract was awarded based on their experience in performing this type of work to published standards. These standards are in place to make the rate structure legally defensible. They also continuously work on rate studies across the country so they are very efficient in what they do and provide a best practice or industry standard perspective. It would be nearly impossible to have City staff members gain the knowledge base and experience in conducting this type of study and have the support staff available to accomplish this study in an accurate and professional manner and in a reasonable time.
4. Consultants offer a non-biased professional opinion without being politically influenced. The City’s customer, the people, deserve objective evaluation of important issues that if left up to the local political environment may face short-cuts or alterations that could threaten public health and safety.
To answer your question Mr. anonymous question-asker: Yes, the Mayor and Council are paid to make decisions, and they do. Based on the enormity of some decisions and the potential risk to the community, some decisions cannot be left up to elected officials.
You may be interested to know that in 2016 the City of Rapid City spent nearly $500,000 less on consultants than in 2015. Another $400,000 reduction is expected in 2017.
As for task-forces, virtually all of them could be avoided…if we didn’t care what the people felt about important topics facing our City. (see the first sentence above).