In one week, City Engineer Jim Wilgus closed three deals to purchase properties on behalf of the city, spoke at neighborhood meetings about the ever-growing need for speed humps, wrangled with residents about accessing property for drainage improvements, and accepted the City Council’s recognition of National Public Works Week, which began today.
As assistant public works director, Wilgus helps to evaluate, design and oversee the completion of city projects.
This includes acquiring an average of 10 properties a month. Much of the land needed for city development is donated and most deals are about 1,000 square feet and less than $10,000, he said.
One acquisition has been collecting dust for years, according to Wilgus, because previous property owners would not grant the city access to address a drainage concern.
“The project fell apart during right-of-way negotiations,” he said.
Now under new ownership, Wilgus brought a plan for the 89 Maple Ave. property to the City Council’s May 8 meeting. Councilman Philip Goldstein raised concerns about a permanent easement from the owners for future maintenance.
Installation of a new pipe was unanimously approved by the council, with the stipulation that property owners have to consent to long-term access by the city.
Wilgus said the Public Works Department does not get overwhelmed with those battles, even though a project might have taken two to three weeks to plan. Instead, Wilgus said he moves down a large list of priorities that is approved by the council.
Councilman Jim King, chairman of the council’s public works committee, said his engineering background gives him a better understanding of the department.
“They are always looking for ways to do things more efficiently,” said King, who also said the staff has “a good eye” for saving taxpayer money.
Part of Wilgus’ job is responding to requests from residents, surveying the neighborhood to see if the majority agrees with that request and then relaying that information to the council.
Wilgus said big road projects are the “glamorous” side of the Public Works Department “where people can see the differences we make. But we do the grunt stuff every day.”
Wilgus said the goal is for small items to only take one week of construction work.
The Public Works Department’s biggest worry is the long-term plan to unearth metal drainage pipes “that are at the end of their life” and date back to the 1960s and ’70s.
“We’ve not even found all the ones we are having trouble with,” Wilgus said about replacing only 20 percent so far.
In addition to these responsibilities, his department sets and enforces codes “for anything that is being constructed” in Marietta.
The department also makes traffic movement efficient by installing every street sign and school crossings.
“Although we are not necessarily first responders like police and fire, we are the ones who get everything back to service,” said Wilgus about Public Works’ role in cutting tree limbs and clearing an area after an emergency.
As the second largest department in the city, the Public Works Department employs more than 100 people, and has several current job openings.
With all of these duties, “We hear most about trash pick-up,” Wilgus said.
This week, a display in the lobby of City Hall will provide information and pictures to help the public understand the department’s scope.
Wilgus said he is including a traffic signal in the presentation so people can “realize the size of the equipment we work with.”