Efficiency and Innovation: Dakota County Fleet Management’s Award-Winning Approach to Public Service

The Dakota County Fleet Management Department continues to find ways to improve its operations and save taxpayers money.

By Jim Harris

The Dakota County Fleet Management Department’s ability to maintain hundreds of vehicle and pieces of equipment while keeping costs low for county taxpayers has earned it the recognition of its peers several times since it was formed in 2007.

“We constantly look for new ways to improve our service to taxpayers and the different user groups we serve,” says Kevin L. Schlangen CPFP, CAFM, CEM, fleet manager for the Rosemount, Minn.-headquartered department. “The awards we’ve won are all centered around what we’re doing to increase the efficiency in how we provide fleet services; that’s what we excel at.”Dakota County info box

Most recently, the department was awarded the 2017 Fleet Masters award from the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP) and Construction Equipment magazine. The award notes Dakota County’s excellence in five categories: finance, information management, policies, controls and customer service, Schlangen notes.

The department was also ranked in the top 10 of the “100 Best Fleets in North America” for 2016 by Tom C. Johnson, a consultant and author, and is ranked one of the top 50 “Leading Fleets in North America” for 2017 by Government Fleet magazine and the American Public Works Association (APWA).

A Right-Sized Fleet

The department was created in 2007 following the consolidation of all of the county’s equipment maintenance and management efforts into a single entity. Before the merger, each of the county’s departments – including public works and the sheriff’s office – had its own equipment budget and maintained equipment at different sites with their own staff. The department oversees 687 pieces of equipment with a total value of $23 million.

Since its inception, Dakota County Fleet Management has saved taxpayers $3.04 million by implementing a formal capital replacement program that includes reducing and right-sizing its fleet as well as securing grant funding for new equipment. The program assigns a point value to equipment to determine its replacement priority. Points are based on age, mileage or hours, type of service, reliability, condition, maintenance and repair costs, and energy efficiency of replacement units.

The county has reduced the size of its fleet by 125 pieces in the last nine years. The cost to replace those pieces is $2.7 million, Schlangen notes.

During the same time, Dakota County Fleet Management has added 82 pieces of equipment. Roughly $1.6 million – or 64 percent – of the $2.5 million total cost of that equipment was paid through grants or through non-tax related programs.

“We have partnered with other groups and tapped into alternative funding sources to meet the needs of our customers,” Schlangen says. These include grant programs and partnerships with local agencies or municipalities  including the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Homeland Security.

The equipment replacement effort allowed the county to increase the average mileage use of its vehicles. Before the point system, all squad cars were typically replaced at 90,000 miles; now, cars run up to 150,000 miles, the county notes.

Improving Behavior

Every piece of on-the-road equipment in Dakota County – 280 units in total including law enforcement and public works vehicles – is equipped with telematics systems. Supervisors and other country personnel were trained extensively in the value of the devices and use of the reporting functions.

The county began using telematics technology in 2005 in 23 tandem-axle snowplow trucks. Then in 2012 expanded to 70 additional vehicles in other departments, the telematics program has helped the county achieve a mpg increase of 9.5 percent, a harsh acceleration reduction of 25.5 percent, a harsh braking reduction of 28.6 percent and a idling cost reduction of 7.2 percent.

“Through this program, we have improved driver behavior, increased our fuel economy, increased utilization and extended the useful life of our equipment,” Schlangen says.

Staying Green

The Dakota County Fleet Management Department is mindful of its impact on the environment. The department is accredited through the NAFA Fleet Management Association’s Sustainable Fleet Accreditation Program, which notes its efforts to improve its overall energy and fuel efficiency.

In recent years, the department has added flexible-fuel and hybrid vehicles to its fleet, used grant funds to install catalyst devices on vehicles to reduce diesel emissions, and converted strobe lights and arrow boards to LED lights.

“Since 2005, we’ve reduced our greenhouse gas footprint by 34 percent through a combination of different programs,” Schlangen says. “There’s not one silver bullet to sustainability; every year we keep building on what we’ve done.”

Keeping Up

The Dakota County Fleet Management Department continues to improve its operations. The department is an ASE Blue Seal of Excellence certified fleet garage that currently holds 123 individual certifications with four master automotive technicians, four master medium/heavy truck technicians and five emergency vehicle technicians. “Attaining ASE certification is elevating us as a group, and attracting people to come here,” Schlangen says.

The department continues to train its staff on the latest developments in its industry. “We are working on educating ourselves to keep up with changes in technology so we can remain competitive with the shop across the street,” he adds, noting the department provides fleet services that are constantly being compared to the private sector in cost analysis.

The Dakota County Fleet Management Department’s plans for the near future include looking at ways to manage the six fuel islands it maintains. In addition to fueling its own vehicles, the department also sells fuel to outside agencies.

Schlangen says he is proud the county has improved its fleet management practices and invested in equipment while maintaining a relatively flat budget for the past 10 years. “When you consider how the cost of pretty much everything has gone up during that time, it says a lot about our programs that we’ve been able to hold our own with 0 to 2 percent changes in our budget each year,” he says.