CH2MHill- Unraveling the Mystery

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This article was written by Jeanie Barnett for the March issue of Crystal Place Connections. The article is posted on Central Speaks with her permission.

The name is not the only thing that baffles us about CH2M Hill, so I went to talk to Tommy Higgs, program director to get a clear picture of the outfit that is supposedly “running our city.”  After giving Doug and me what he calls “the nickel tour,” we sat and talked for nearly three hours.   

First, for the name.  CHM was the name of the original engineering firm, formed from the first initials of the partners’ last names.  Another partner was added, who had the initial H, and so it became CH2M.  Later the firm bought out another engineering firm named—you guessed it—Hill.   

That mystery was an easy one to explain.  Now for the concept.  When Central was first incorporated it did not have the resources to provide services which a municipality typically provides.  It initially contracted services with EBR for a transitional period until bids could be submitted for an entity equipped to provide what we needed.  CH2MHill offered the most complete package of services at the best contract terms and price.  They handle all the service of a traditional city government with the exception of police and fire departments, trash, water and sewer.  They handle public works, such things as mowing, road patching, potholes, drainage and signage within the right of way of city maintained roads. Though the City Council sets the permit fees, CH2MHill handles permits and inspections. They handle the accounting for the city.  They handle licensing and have an office of planning and zoning. 

CH2MHill is an environmentally conscious international company employing as many people as we have residents here in Central.  While CH2MHill has 15 direct employees working in Central, many of them are local people who met their strict requirements for employment.  They also contract out inspections, issuance of permits and most plan reviews to SAFEbuilt, road repair and drainage issues to Nottingham, and ditch mowing and herbicide application to Louisiana Vegetation.   

One popular misconception is that CH2MHill retains 90% of the permit fees.  The breakdown is this:  SAFEbuilt, who employs the inspections, provides the service and is legally liable gets 80%.  CH2MHill and the City of Central each get 10%.  There is a set system of prioritization and accountability and man hours are diligently tracked. 

The beauty and brilliance of the concept is simply economy of scale.  CH2MHill is a huge corporation that you have never heard of simply because it is not publicly traded.  All stockholders are employees, and intrinsically invested in the success of the company and the quality of its services. Because of its size, it can insure its employees (mostly residents of Central) for far less, buy state of the art equipment software and supplies at a great discount, offer expertise and experience we could not access alone, and manpower beyond our own resources.  They are authorized by FEMA and have access to emergency assistance and expertise our city might not otherwise readily be able to access, though are more likely to act in an advisory capacity to alleviate any hint of impropriety. 

The budget of the City of Central could never have born the burden of starting up these service departments, nor could they possibly match the expertise, experience, quality and manpower provided.   

One of the greatest benefits of this public/private partnership is that there is a built in elimination of nepotism and favoritism.  There can be no “good-ole-boy conglomerate.”  Every citizen is treated fairly and equally.   

You may have heard of some residents having unpleasant encounters with personnel there in the past, but there have been some staffing changes in response.  Everyone we met during our “nickel tour” was friendly and eager to answer questions.   

Like the permit fees, all city ordinances are set by the City Council.  CH2MHill is directly answerable to the mayor.  So, CH2MHill is not the “outfit that is running our city.”  It is the company that is serving our city.


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