Hesston city staff has ushered in a lot of change over the past year, and it is not over yet — though administration is looking more internally for the next phase.
With the recent announcement of Parks and Recreation Superintendent Ken Schwanke's retirement, a chain of events was set off to bring about an organizational restructuring that has been discussed for several years, according to City Administrator Gary Emry and Mayor David Kauffman.
Following Schwanke's retirement, the city will add the new position of Public Works Director to unify three currently separate departments (Parks and Recreation, Streets and Utilities) under one administrative role. Eventually, the other superintendent positions will be phased out — following their own retirements — and replaced with lower-level jobs within each department.
"I know that change isn't always easy for employees," Kauffman said, "but I think in the long run this will be better for employees as far as kind of knowing what the chain of command is and having structure from someone who actually has that engineering degree and a little bit of expertise in all those areas."
"We're not going to decrease the amount of employees in the department," Emry said. "This director position will be extra, but we'll fund it through the savings created by the elimination of a superintendent level pay grade."
At first, that full cost savings will not be seen, not until the organizational shift has been phased in, according to Emry. However, when it is fully implemented, Emry expects that it will help not only those in the city offices, but the citizens of Hesston as well.
"From an organizational standpoint, it makes a lot of sense because you're gaining management efficiency and you're saving some salary and benefit costs, but you're not getting any lesser service," Emry said. "Right now, I'm dealing with seven superintendents. I'd only be dealing with four (with the structure change), so that frees up time for emphasis in other areas and gives a more manageable span of control of employees. Hopefully the end result is better service to the community."
Currently, Emry noted the plan is to start advertising for the new Public Works Director position within the next two weeks and have an employee in place by mid-December.
On top of streamlining the chain of command, Emry said the new position will also allow for cross-training and cross-utilization between the three departments that will fall under the Public Works umbrella — which means the city will have a greater pool of employees to pull from in addressing a water main break, a gas leak, etc.
The time, Emry noted, is also right. Given those aforementioned changes going on in Hesston (i.e. the construction of new sports facilities and other commercial projects), the engineering services provided by a Public Works Director will be of great use for plan reviews and more.
While the addition of the Public Works position is the most imminent change the city is looking into, it is not the only change that will be coming. Like the addition of the position, Emry said a change in office space has been a plan years in the making — and one that will likely be implemented in 2018.
Hesston currently owns the old library building across from the current city offices (115 E. Smith) and a move would add room for the new Public Works Director as well as free up the old offices for use by Hesston Fire/EMS. As call volume continues to increase, Emry stated the need for expansion in that department (potentially to full-time service) is inevitable.
"We're certainly not there yet," Emry said, "but we know that's coming as the community continues to grow."