When Jeff Mahagan, a water treatment operator originally from Colorado, arrived in Hillsborough, North Carolina in 2006, he found a wastewater treatment plant requiring much needed repair and upgrades in order to function as effectively as possible. Mahagan collaborated with several fellow Hillsborough employees to improve the plant’s and collection system’s operations (e.g., creating a utility maintenance crew focused on completing preventative maintenance that would preclude the town from incurring costly repair costs) soon after he was named the superintendent of the plant.

Hillsborough Wastewater Tour 1

In his new role, Mahagan played an integral role in planning plant upgrades that began in 2011. Using his innovative thinking, Mahagan was able to work with design engineers to help bring down the estimated design cost of the proposed renovations of $30 million to (an actual cost of around) $18 million.  (An original proposed alternative to pump Hillsborough’s wastewater to Durham instead of upgrading the plant was estimated to be over $130 million.) Innovative ideas Mahagan suggested included using fiberglass walls in tanks and replacing solid beam rails with sturdy posts connected by heavy chains. The latter was particularly innovative as the chain and pole design promised to reduce long term costs associated with rail repair and replacement. However, Mahagan’s desire to pursue innovative ways to cut costs while improving plant operations did not stop there. Mahagan also worked to improve the Wastewater Quality Report in order to provide customers with more and better information about water quality. It was no surprise when Mahagan won a Bronze Award for Customer Service in the town’s Innovation and Customer Service Awards Program in 2012. The award was just one of the many accolades Mahagan has received throughout the years—other notable awards include the Wilbur E. Long, Jr. Operator of the Year Award in 2011 and the William D. Hatfield Award for outstanding performance and professionalism in 2013.

So, what does this all mean for (current and future) managers? The answer is simple: when you hire quality people who care about the work they do, it is very likely that their work will benefit citizen’s greatly by improving services all the while maintaining cost of services low. It is people like Mahagan that every municipality should aim to hire.

Hillsborough Wastewater Tour