Blue Ridge, Ga. – “I believe that smaller government is better government, but I also believe that in areas where government does play a legitimate role we should demand that it is done better.” Former Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker spoke these words that echo true in the thoughts of many Americans across the nation. Here at home, in Fannin County, we are seeing the literal effects of these words when put into action.
Zack Ratcliff, Director of Public Works in Fannin County, has not only managed to cut the department’s expenses by close to $1,000,000 in just two years but his management has also led the Public Works department to more than double productivity in many areas.
In 2016 the Public Works department had 53 employees with a budget of $1,826,505 in payroll alone. The number of employees dramatically decreased by 2017 to 35. This brought payroll expenditures down to $1,308,744.
By 2018 employee total for the department sits at 36 with a payroll of $1,289,868. This alone has brought a little over $500,000 in savings to taxpayers each year.
“Any time you have change in administration or management there has always been that old fear, you hear that term cleaning house, you (Ratcliff) didn’t do that,” Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton said clarifying what allowed Ratcliff to make these cuts in payroll. “What you came out there and did, you set a standard of what was expected of employees.You raised the bar.”
Ratcliff confirmed Helton’s statement by saying that upon becoming the Director of Public Works he has only had one termination in the department.
With the department now having roughly two-thirds of the employees held in 2016, one would assume productivity or quality would be lacking, but Public Works has sacrificed neither of these by streamlining the department, and the number of jobs completed each year is actually on the rise.
In the last year, roughly 117 miles of road have been restriped, 12 miles of road have been paved, 25 miles of road have been chip and sealed, the Aska Transfer Station also received chip and seal, as well as the Recreation Center parking area, 28 culverts have been installed, 600 road signs have been cleaned and straightened, and 649 new road signs were created for use throughout the county.
Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson commented on how this kind of productivity saves money for residents: “The numbers that I see that aren’t reflected in these numbers, of other savings, is when you chip and seal a road, that is that many roads we’re not having to gravel, to grade or to maintain, other than clogged ditches and what have you. So really it’s hard to put a number on that (indirect savings).”
Ratcliff has also managed to cut costs by strategically coordinating work done throughout the county. By coming up with a well mapped plan for the year, the department has cut time and fuel by focusing on specific areas within the county to complete multiple projects.
Along with cutting costs, Ratcliff has added over $85,000 back to the county’s General Fund through selling the department’s older vehicles and equipment.
While the payroll is the most dramatic of the savings, other areas have improved in expenditures as well. The Fuel Master system was installed to track fuel use leading to greater accountability, through negotiations with various vendors the county is now receiving 2-10 percent discounts on its bills, and a new uniform provider was found that can provide uniforms at half the cost that the county was previously paying.
Ratcliff credits the success of the Public Works department to the employees in it and stated of the workers, “My crew is an efficient crew. Everybody’s professional.”
Johnson spoke of the dramatic affect one department can have on Fannin County as a whole, “These numbers right here is what keeps Fannin County’s millage rate the lowest in the state.”
“I think this is a great example of being able to professionally manage a department and do it effectively,” Helton added his thoughts on the accomplishments of the Public Works department, “That’s real money. That’s big time money.”
The 2017 audit showed the initial savings of the now more efficient Public Works department as being $999,333.
When asked what motivates him to continue to look for ways to improve the department and save taxpayers money Ratcliff simply replied, “I’m a public servant.”
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