Leesburg Seeks Efficiencies in Brush Collection, Land Development

Two interactive exercises recently undertaken by Leesburg’s town staff have looked for efficiencies in key areas of operations in Town Hall.

Town staff members recently engaged in the Lean Six Sigma Kaizen process, used by many large corporations to scrutinize a problem and propose solutions. Employees from different, and sometimes unrelated, departments are brought in to give a fresh set of eyes to an issue.

That was the case recently within Town Hall, as front-line employees were brought in to comb through the town’s processes for brush and leaf collection. While brush is collected in town on a year-round basis, leaf collection runs from mid-October to the end of December.

“The key to this success was the front-line staff doing this work and being engaged and active in the process,” Renee LaFollette, director of the town’s Public Works and Capital Projects Department, said in addressing the Town Council during its Monday work session.

The pre-study “old way” of brush and leaf collection was rife with inconsistencies, LaFollette acknowledged, which caught the study group by surprise. There were no written standard operating procedures, she said. The use of personal protective equipment was inconsistent, and there were no consequences for not wearing it. The staff was not cross-trained on the different aspects of brush and leaf collection, which meant sometimes the team would need to make two or three passes through the same area.

The front-line staff assigned to the kaizen process put in place standard operating procedures and created a worksheet for each position on the team. The use of personal protective equipment is now required and can be grounds for termination if the offense is ongoing or persistent.

“It’s brought about a zero-injury season for leaf and, so far, for brush,” LaFollette said.

The group also put in place requirements for mandatory pre- and post-route inspections, which has also significantly decreased equipment downtime. Town Code changes proposed by the group, and recently adopted by the council, also tighten requirements on what can be picked up during brush collection. That has saved the town $13,000 in landfill fees, LaFollette said. The cost of leaf collection has also decreased 50 cents per load.

Other changes adopted include a new app to track collections and pinpoint any problems; cross-training of staff so all team members can drive the truck and work on collection; and the assignment of specific routes.

“We have made great strides,” LaFollette said.

On the land development side, a separate kaizen process brought in members of town staff, the private sector, developers, county representatives, and others. It even included former Town Council member Kevin Wright, who also served on the Planning Commission for many years. The goal of the exercise, according to Bill Ackman, director of the Department of Plan Review, was to reduce the time from plan submission to approval, minimize delays between submissions, and determine why the overall process was taking so long and work to make it better.

One idea that was recently adopted by the Town Council—allowing some bonds to be approved administratively, rather than with council action—has already made an impact, Ackman said.

“We’ve heard from development companies that is a wonderful thing. It’s taken 45 to 60 days off the review process,” he said.

Many of the changes proposed by the working group bring more visibility to the overall development process. An example of an approved “go-by plan” is now available on the town website, along with updated checklists of what is required for application submission.

“It’s not a guess anymore of what the town is looking for, it’s available online,” Ackman said.

Also, on the website is a top 10 list of special criteria that applies to the town’s development regulations and processes.

“If someone wants to know what’s different in Leesburg, it’s on the website,” he said.

Other suggestions adopted by town staff following the study include soliciting feedback from the private sector on a regular basis, and even looking at creating “acceptance criteria.”

“We are not a finished product by any way,” Ackman said. “It is going to take a long time to complete.”

krodriguez@loudounnow.com

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