City sells street grinder at a loss

The city council recently approved the sale of a large, barely used asphalt grinder — which the city purchased back in 2007 for $185,000 and used for a total of 12 hours — for a fraction of what the city paid for it.

The equipment sale is a sign of the economic times and challenges facing Petaluma, underscoring a shift in road maintenance from an in-house, do-it-yourself approach toward an outsourced, model less reliant on shrinking staff.

The machine in good working condition, but it has an estimated value in today's market of only $70,000, less than half of what the city shelled out to acquire it. According to records, the city just finished paying off the grinder, primarily used in major repaving projects, last year.

Public Works Director Dan St. John, who came to work for the city in January and was not involved with the purchase of the grinder, said that when the city purchased the machinery, it thought city workers would be handling large-scale road reconstruction projects themselves.

St. John added that due to reductions in the general fund budget, street repair staff in Petaluma has shrunk by 66 percent since the asphalt grinder was bought, and that the city does not have enough employees to properly operate the equipment.

"On top of that, none of the guys are trained on it," St. John said at the Sept. 24 City Council meeting.

Councilmember Mike Harris, who voted against selling the equipment along with Councilmember Mike Healy, said that selling a valuable asset for a fraction of what the city paid for it concerns him.

"We need to fix our streets and if we have a piece of equipment that can be used for that, we should be looking at keeping it," said Harris this week. "If our staff isn't trained to use it, we should train them."

But St. John said that, at the time of purchase, the city street maintenance crew had more positions and took a vastly different approach to repairing roads.

Instead of the road patching and temporary pavement crack sealing the department currently survives on, the city in 2007 was poised to begin repaving its streets with existing staff instead of outsourcing the work. To do so, it purchased a number of machines.

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