The city of Independence will merge its Public Works and Water Pollution Control departments this summer, creating a new Municipal Services Department that mirrors what Public Works had been decades earlier.
The move will cut six positions across the two departments and save the city about $425,000 in the upcoming budget year, though City Manager Zach Walker said he expects that figure to grow in future years as the department finds more operational efficiencies.
Until the early 1980s, WPC had been part of Public Works, as the city did not have a water department and Missouri Water served the city. When the city purchased Missouri Water, WPC became its own department.
Lisa Phelps, currently director of Water Pollution Control, will be the department leader, as current Public Works Director Tim Gramling is planning to retire.
“If anything, this gets back to what it looked like when the charter was first adopted, not that what the city was doing was wrong,” Walker said.
Walker said the move had been considered the past few years when preparing the budget but was shelved in place of other changes like the tourism and health departments, and health insurance. He likened the move to when the city folded tourism into the Parks and Recreation Department a few years ago.
“We had some scenarios with this, but the end game is how much change an organization can take at once,” he said.
The city has voter-approved dedicated sales taxes for streets and storm water infrastructure, and oversight committees for those taxes will remain the same.
Also, as part of reorganizing Public Works, the development engineering staff will move to Community Development. That puts all areas of the city with which prospective businesses and developers work under one roof. Engineering staff for city infrastructure remains as is.
“All of that will be under one umbrella,” Walker said. “We heard feedback from developers and business partners that led to this.”