Sewer consultants earn top pay among city’s consultants

State of California hired 500 consultants last year
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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The City of Auburn has paid consultants $194,812 since July 2011, while last year the State of California divvied out more than $146 million dollars to consultants. Auburn City Manger Bob Richardson said consultants are hired to complete a task when a certain expertise is needed and it would be cheaper than hiring another employee. Since the beginning of the fiscal year, consultants have been hired to assist with waste water, sewer and housing issues. “I think the city’s policy is to bring in outside firms when there is a definite dollar savings in going that route,” Richardson said. “In all these cases it is far less expensive to retain these outside firms than to bring in new permanent staff.” Nexgen Utility Management has been paid a sizable chunk of the city’s share in consultants at $135,512. The company completed a design engineering for lift station projects, provided assistance with permits, a computerized maintenance management system and other aspects of the sewer systems and plans. Richardson said with ever-changing mandates from the state and federal government special expertise is needed on certain projects. “In almost all cases, outside of development-related activity, we use consultants to adhere to state and federal regulations that are imposed upon us,” Richardson said. “It’s always changing.” Finding that expertise in the private sector is often cheaper than paying a full-time salary, plus benefits and retirement, he said. Auburn City Council Member Kevin Hanley said the need to hire a consultant is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. “My general perspective is to support consultant contracts when we can not do the work in-house with a city employee, sort of we are buying some expertise,” Hanley said. “Usually we go with consultants to do a short-term temporary project. It’s a more inexpensive way to find talent in the private sector, get the job done and move on.” Hanley said in some cases the recommendations of consultants have even saved the city, and residents, money in the long-run. Dan Rich, a principal at Nexgen Utility Management has saved Auburn money by helping the city move to solar power in its wastewater treatment plant to save electricity, according to Hanley. “He has saved the Auburn sewer ratepayers by bringing in that expertise,” Hanley said. “That’s why Auburn rates are $58.28 versus like $80.” Hanley said he understands why the state would hire consultants if it is cheaper than hiring a full-time employee with benefits and the task they are hired for is vital. “It’s $146 million versus the alternative,” Hanley said. “If the job doesn’t need to be done it’s a waste of money.” Council Member Dr. Bill Kirby said while the city is careful about hiring consultants, the state’s spending is over the top. “I think the State of California is about as out of control in their expenses and should not talk about increasing taxes, but cut spending dramatically,” Kirby said. “Frankly the State of California has no idea about fiscal conservatism. It’s getting frightening.” Kirby said Auburn also has a number of experienced people who volunteer their services for free on various commissions. “We are very careful about the use of consultants. We use them when they have expertise that we don’t have and they do,” Kirby said. “We are blessed in Auburn in our community with a huge number of people who give us great advice for nothing.” Reach Sara Seyydin at