Assessment of DPW Organization and Operations

Sponsor: Nantucket Town Manager’s Office IQP Picture cropped
Sponsor Liaison: Kara Buzanoski (Director of Public Works)
Gregg Tivnan (Assistant Town Manager)
Student Team: Sean Hathaway, Eric Meier, Brian Splaine
Abstract: The Nantucket Department of Public Works (DPW) has undergone substantial change in the past decade and faces increasing demands. Our goal was to evaluate how well the current structure and functions of the DPW meet the needs of the island. We created a departmental profile, analyzed employee and stakeholder perceptions, and benchmarked the department against similar departments in other communities. We concluded the DPW needs reorganization and additional funding and staffing to better meet the demands of the island. We recommend that the DPW invests in additional staffing, technology, and equipment, provide incentives for training, develop programs to improve its image, and enhance all record keeping.


Final Presentation

Executive Summary

Like other towns in Massachusetts, Nantucket is under increasing pressure to cut costs while delivering better and/or more services. Nantucket also struggles with many distinct challenges. As a tourist destination, the year round population of 10,399 swells to well over 65,000 in the summer, placing tremendous strain on island resources. Due to its location, Nantucket cannot rely on mutual aid from neighbors, but must maintain a more extensive inventory of equipment to cover all eventualities.


With these challenges in mind, the goal of our project was to evaluate how well the current structure and functions of Nantucket’s Department of Public Works (DPW) meet the needs of the island. We started by creating a departmental profile which assessed the department’s services, personnel, communication, technology, equipment, and data collection methods. We surveyed twelve Town Cabinet members and twenty-five DPW employees and examined various internal records. Furthermore, we interviewed two members of the Town Cabinet, five DPW employees, and one retired DPW employee to clarify survey data and to accumulate further information about the department. The two surveys also helped our team to assess the perceived opinions of the Board of Selectmen (BOS), Town Administration, and public through the Town Cabinet and the DPW employees. Lastly, we compared specific functions of Nantucket’s DPW to six other Massachusetts communities.


Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendations

We concluded that the DPW is well managed and advances in a positive direction, however many challenges remain. We focus our recommendations in five areas: personnel, reorganization, support and education, technology and equipment, and data collection.



Based on our interviews, surveys, and benchmarking exercises, we conclude that the DPW is presently understaffed and the employees are overworked due to a failure to add staff commensurate with the addition of new departmental responsibilities. Hiring staff is difficult because living expenses, especially housing costs, are very high and employment at the DPW is not perceived as glamorous or attractive. We recommend that the DPW:

  • Hires additional general laborers, a mechanic, and a plumber;
  • Explore the option of hiring off island laborers until the town can devise a longer term solution to the housing needs of town employees; and
  • Offer new incentives for training.



Between our surveys and interviews, we concluded that Nantucket’s DPW is in need of better organization. The DPW employees we interviewed indicated that wastewater should not be part of the DPW. Cabinet survey respondents indicated Parks and Recreation should not be services of the DPW, while half agreed Facilities should also be moved out. We recommend:

  • Wastewater becomes its own department within the next year;
  • Parks and Recreation becomes its own department within the next two to three years;
  • Facilities becomes its own department as soon as the current division expands its staffing and range of services; and
  • Creating a Public Works Cabinet, headed by the DPW director, which would include the DPW and these three new divisions.


Support and Education

We found that DPW employees feel disrespected and under-appreciated by the Board of Selectmen, Town Administration, and the public. We recommend the DPW reaches out to the public and improve support by:

  • Creating a support group called Friends of the Island to promote the development of a departmental support network;
  • Increasing participation in the State’s Senior Tax Work-off Program;
  • Creating a civics class which teaches the public about the DPW; and
  • Involving the DPW in the School to Work program as part of a two week rotating schedule visiting multiple departments.


Technology and Equipment

We found that technology could be used more effectively throughout all of the DPW. To operate more effectively, the DPW should improve the technology and equipment it provides to its employees. We recommend:

  • Purchasing fleet management software prior to the 2018 acceptance of central fleet roles; and
  • Equipping vehicles with an iPad or Toughbook, and radios coupled with an external loudspeaker.


Data Collection

In our research, quantitative data was difficult to obtain due to ineffective data collection methods. Records were often incomplete, non-existent, or not in an electronic format. These records would be useful in expanding on our findings and data collection in an effort to identify the best areas for improvement. We recommend:

  • The DPW continues to implement data collection tools to assist in departmental evaluations, and staffing and budgetary justifications.