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Why Does My City Need an Engineer?


At the end of each calendar year, many cities publish ads for professional services they use throughout the year. Accounting, legal services, and engineering may be among them. The need for an accountant or attorney may be obvious. But an engineer? What’s the reasoning behind that?

First, a quick definition: a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) has proven through post-secondary education, rigorous exams, work experience, and continuing education that s/he is knowledgeable in the field, upholds strict standards for maintaining the public’s health, safety, and well-being, and practices in an ethical manner. Because of the high standards we must meet in our practice, clients rely on our expertise, professionalism, and insight.

Reasons for a city to retain engineering services:
  • Plans for public water supply, sanitary sewer, and certain other facilities require a PE’s signature according to state law and to meet certain funding agency stipulations. By signing these documents, the PE is accepting responsibility for the plans’ compliance with local, state, and, perhaps, federal codes, ordinances, and standards.
  • In Minnesota, state bidding law requires public bidding procedures be followed for municipal contracts when the value of the contract exceeds $175,000. In North Dakota, that threshold is $200,000. Cities rely on the PE’s expertise in designing and preparing city infrastructure projects for public bidding.
  • Public improvements often involve special assessments that must be completed according to state statute, and that process is usually completed by an experienced PE.
  • All public projects require due diligence to ensure standards for public health, safety, and welfare are met. PEs or registered architects’professionals who sign-off on project plans’bear the bulk of that burden.

While larger cities may maintain a licensed engineer on staff, smaller municipalities frequently retain an outside consultant to work alongside their staff.

Advantages from retaining engineering services:
  • Saving the cost of maintaining a professional on payroll
  • Freeing up staff to focus on other city initiatives
  • Having an objective party verifying project need
  • Obtaining a broad range of expertise across a variety of engineering, architecture, and surveying disciplines
  • Getting quality assurance reviews
  • Applying appropriate and innovative solutions to the city’s infrastructure needs.

Whichever path a city follows, they are obliged to follow state laws. Hiring an engineer who is attentive, responsive, and thorough will help them meet this obligation, with the added benefit of reassuring their constituents they are good stewards of city resources.

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