Ordinance would merge two borough departments

Facing decreased revenue from the state, the Kenai Peninsula Borough has proposed merging the Capital Projects Department with its Purchasing and Contracting Department.

The Capital Projects Department handles capital improvement projects in the borough, such as roofing a school or repairing a water-damaged baseball field. Seven permanent staff and some temporary positions for individual projects make up the department.

It shares some responsibilities with the Purchasing and Contracting Department, which is charged with purchasing materials, equipment and services for the various entities of the borough. Borough Mayor Mike Navarre proposed merging the two departments in an ordinance presented to the borough assembly at its May 3 meeting.

The merger would cut two positions in the Capital Projects Department and one position in Purchasing and Contracting, according to a memo from the mayor submitted to the assembly. The director’s position would merge the two directors’ former roles into one, held by current Acting Purchasing and Contracting Director Valentina Sustaita.

The borough did not fill the position of the Purchasing and Contracting Director when it came vacant last fall, nor did it fill a vacant administrative position in the Purchasing and Contracting Department or a project manager position in the Capital Projects Department when they became vacant, Navarre said. Both are relatively small departments, and administrators believe the job duties and responsibilities will still be covered.

The state’s fiscal climate likely will lead to fewer grants for capital projects over time, Navarre said. The administrators and the departments are still discussing how the new department would look and function, he said.

“One of the things that we have been talking with both departments about is how we merge the two, so we make sure all of the job responsibilities are met, (like) reporting requirements for grants that have to be met,” Navarre said. “It really is maintaining all of the same functions, just a little different structure, some savings to the borough.”

The staff position that would be eliminated in Purchasing and Contracting has been vacant and was added a few years ago when the department handled more grants that were coming in from the state. The borough administrators evaluated the position and determined that it would not be necessary; a similar process took place with a project manager position in the Capital Projects Department, Navarre said.

“There’s some significant savings over time that seem to make sense and I think it’ll work from a management perspective,” Navarre said.

If the assembly approves the move, merging the departments could save the borough approximately $351,000 annually, according to the memo.

Under the new department, all the Capital Projects staff would become project managers, with Dan Mahalak remaining as Water Manager. The administrative support sections would be merged, but the Purchasing and Contracting Department would maintain a maintenance supply lead and maintenance supply specialist.

The Purchasing and Contract Department also is looking at switching its annual surplus property sale from in-person to online. 

Other municipalities in Alaska have done so, and it could provide some advantages for the borough, Navarre said. Currently, the borough sets up a sale on a Saturday and stores all the items in one location for members of the public to bid on. 

Switching to the online system would help to avoid the “crunch time” and spread the work load out over the course of the year, he said.

“It will make the information available and we will likely get broader sets of bids from a variety of people,” Navarre said. “We can do all of that in-house using today’s available technology.”

Elizabeth Earl is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. She can be reached at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.