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Award-winning department continues to serve Taylorsville with little fanfare

Aug 31, 2017 04:49PM ● Published by Jana Klopsch

Leon Berrett (l) and Dan Sommer are two of the 130 employees who make the Salt Lake County Public Works Operations Division run. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)

Gallery: Public Works Department [3 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Carl Fauver | carlf@mycityjournals.com

For the second year in a row, the Salt Lake County Public Works Department has earned top honors for its efficiency and dedication to quality service. The 400-employee department has earned the prestigious Utah “Best of State” Award.

Taylorsville City contracts with the operations division of the department to handle all of the city’s street maintenance, snow removal, storm drain maintenance, traffic and street light repairs and the many other things residents normally take for granted, until something goes wrong.

“Our day-to-day lives are greatly impacted by everything public works does,” said the department’s operations division Associate Director M. Leon Berrett. “But people often don’t notice until there is some kind of a problem.”

As an example, Berrett described a typical morning for most of us.

“Your morning alarm goes off, because public works was involved in getting the electricity to your house,” he said. “After that, you take a shower because our division keeps water flowing. Then you drive on streets and watch traffic signals, that are maintained by public works employees.”

City officials report that Taylorsville contracts with the county to service its public works needs at a rate of $2 million per year. That is part of Salt Lake County’s overall public works budget of $46 million.

According to the organization’s website, the Best of State Awards “were created to recognize outstanding individuals, organizations and businesses in Utah. By recognizing excellence in our community…we hope all will be inspired to reach a little higher, to try a little harder and to work a little smarter for our dreams and goals.”

Mark Layton is the Utah Best of State Awards president.

“We have a panel of at least eight judges who review Best of State nominations in many different categories,” he said. “Half of each nominee’s award (50 percent) is based on ‘achievement in the field of endeavor.’ Innovation or creativity in approaches, techniques, methods or processes’ make up 30 percent of the score. The final 20 percent is based on ‘contribution to the quality of life in Utah.’”

Best of State Award officials do not reveal how many competitors are in each category or which businesses or organizations lost in any given category.

Public Works Operations Division Director Kevyn Smelter reported his agency’s second-straight Best of State Award at a recent Taylorsville City Council meeting.

“Besides all the work our division does to maintain roads, shovel snow and other things, I am also proud of what we are doing to educate people, particularly kids, about public works,” Smeltzer told council members.

Public Works personnel regularly visit schools and community events with equipment and educational material to help the public to better understand the services they provide.

“Sometimes I think we need to do a little more to let people know what we do,” Berrett said. “But we don’t really seek publicity. I guess operating kind of quietly just fits our personality.”

Salt Lake County Public Works personnel maintain half of the 2,600 streetlights in Taylorsville, while Rocky Mountain Power handles the other half.

When snow falls, the county removes it from 155 miles of Taylorsville streets. The Public Works Department has about 70 snowplow trucks to handle the work throughout the county.

Other cities in the valley that contract all their public works services with the county include Holladay and Millcreek.

The county’s public works supervisor for the Taylorsville area is Dan Sommer.

“We have a great relationship with the city,” Sommer said. “They are well organized and one of the top agencies we work with. City staffers tell us what they need, and we try to get on it as quickly as possible.”

Among his many duties, Sommer also coordinates a Salt Lake County Jail inmate team that provides labor for public works projects in Taylorsville. He says the inmates learn valuable work skills while also saving city and county taxpayers’ money.

“We feel we are providing good service while always striving to maintain safety for our employees and the public,” Berrett said. “We’re doing our best to save the world one day at a time.” 

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