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School system looking at cost savings

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- The Newton County School System is putting some new measures in place in several departments in an effort to save money.

Last month, the Newton County Board of Education unanimously approved a recommendation from NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews to enter into a one-year contract with Utilities Analyses Inc. of Atlanta to review utility billing to identify potential refunds and credits and to make recommendations needed to negotiate lower rates for utility services.

The company will review expenditures for utilities like electricity, natural gas, water, sewerage and waste disposal and monitor all monthly charges to provide detailed monthly reports.

The services are being provided on a contingency fee-based agreement, Mathews said.

"If they don't find anything, we don't pay," said Dennis Carpenter, deputy superintendent for operations at NCSS.

For the services, Utilities Analyses Inc. will retain 40 percent of all savings; therefore, NCSS will retain 60 percent, according to the agreement.

NCSS may terminate the agreement at any time with a 60-day written notice to the company.

In addition to the new contract, NCSS has introduced some new projects in other departments to find more cost savings.

NCSS is working with the Newton County Leadership Collaborative to investigate ways to conserve and save on energy costs at its buildings.

Representatives from NCSS and Electric Cities of Georgia, a company that provides strategic and technical services to the city of Covington, are performing walk-through audits at several NCSS buildings for no cost. Afterward, the company will report energy consumption and suggestions of how to reduce energy usage.

The NCSS procurement department also is investigating ways to decrease fuel costs and diversify types of fuel used. Potential solutions include pricing bids with other agencies and analyzing the feasibility of using compressed natural gas in some buses and other vehicles, Carpenter said.

Compressed natural gas would offer the greatest emissions reductions, compared to diesel fuel, and diversifying the fleet would allow NCSS to better manage its fuel costs by not being dependent on one fuel source, said Greg Goins, procurement coordinator at NCSS.

"Additionally, there are life cycle cost advantages to natural gas, as well as numerous federal incentives in the form of tax credits and grants," Goins said.

Carpenter said some related concerns include cost, accessibility and fueling options for the transition.

The procurement and transportation departments at NCSS also are researching the efficiency and cost savings potential of implementing a fleet card system as a supplement to the current fueling process.

"Fleet cards would allow drivers to refuel at multiple service stations located throughout the county, reducing the mileage on vehicles and drive time of bus drivers who currently have to return to the service center to refuel," said Michael Barr, director of Support Services at NCSS. "Additionally, the fleet card system would allow transportation department administrators to track, monitor and control card usage and provide customizable reports of all activities involving the card."

For the 2010-11 school year, student transportation is budgeted at nearly $8 million, including nearly $1.2 million in fuel. Energy, water and other utility services are budgeted at about $3.05 million.