17th Annual Municipal Survey

In Search Of The Silver Lining
By Robert Carpenter, Editor | February 2014, Vol. 69 No. 2

Each year, the Municipal Survey queries city personnel about their contractor and consulting engineering partners. An alarming trend this year was that the approval ratings for both groups fell dramatically.

Engineers

On a scale of one to 5 (with 5 being the highest mark), engineers received a rating of 3.47. That’s down from 3.73 in 2013 and 3.75 in 2012.

The survey determined that the most important aspect of engineers for cities is quality, as it was cited by almost 87 percent of respondents. Other key qualities cities look for in consulting engineers include “understanding new technology” (cited by 57.3 percent), “affordability” was mentioned by 49.3 percent of muni respondents followed by “productive relationships with contractors” (48 percent).
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Municipal employees had many suggestions for how consulting engineers could work more effectively with cities. A Midwest official pointed out that engineers need to “keep their cost overruns down.” Another Midwest respondent suggested that engineers should “be more open to working with contractors to provide incentives for best rehab/replacement methods (design-build), instead of sticking to old technologies.” Yet another Midwest neighbor explained that engineers must “understand that local issues are always unique and there is not a ‘one size fits all approach’ to the project. Listen to local officials," he concluded.

A muni official from the Southwest pointed out this concern: “Private firms have cut back and are pressuring their remaining employees to do more work in less time. Consulting firms must ensure that they are adequately supporting their employees so that neither the employees nor their work will suffer.”

Sage advice was offered by this city respondent: “Accomplish due diligence in considering all potential problems and pitfalls that could go wrong or evolve during prosecution of a project, from initial preliminary design to final design to project completion.”

Contractors

While municipal personnel’s rating of contractors fared better than engineers, it too fell substantially. The rating of 3.61 was down from a high of 3.91 in 2013 and 3.87 in 2012.

As the nation continues to recover from a prolonged recession and slow economy, it is no wonder that the top quality cities seek in contractors is “low cost,” cited by 92 percent of all respondents. “Experience” was a factor preferred by 80 percent of respondents, “timely completion of projects” was cited by 78.7 percent and “quality of work” was mentioned by 77.3 percent.