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Campbell, California

Keywords: Grounds Maintenance, Failed Contract

Buildings and Grounds Maintenance

During a major recession in California about six years ago, the City of Campbell decided to contract out its buildings and grounds maintenance services to a local contractor. At the time the city was under pressure to cut costs, and the private contractor offered to provide the service at a rate significantly lower than what the city was paying its own employees to do the job. In addition, the department had a number of job vacancies, which made it easy to transfer the remaining one or two employees to other city departments following privatization.

The contract was brought back in house after two years with the private contractor. Poor quality service was the primary reason for the transition. The city received numerous complaints from area residents about the quality of maintenance at city parks, and city supervisors were growing tired of constantly having to monitor the contractors work.

The citys decision to take over the service was also facilitated by the healthy economy in Silicon Valley. A growing tax base enabled the city to be less concerned with cutting costs and focus its attention on improving service quality. The city briefly considered hiring another private contractor, but an internal review by the Public Works department showed that public employees could provide better quality service for about the same cost.

Buildings and grounds maintenance has remained a publicly provided service in Campbell since 1996. The city had no problems bringing the service back in house, in part because the city makes a conscious decision to never sign long-term contracts with private providers. In this case, the contract was written so that the city could terminate the contract at any time.

Service quality has improved tremendously now that public employees are back on the job. According to City Manager Bernie Strojny, city workers provide better service because they possess a sense of ownership that the private contractor does not. City employees invest more, he says, because they genuinely care about the places they work at. In contrast, city properties are just one of many locations that the private contractor serves, something that Strojny believes contributes to the contractor having less of an interest in service quality. The city program currently employs three or four people.

Case based on interview with Bernie Strojny, July 7, 1999.