Many of Sarasota County's team members have worked together for over a decade and have developed close friendships in and out of work.   -  Photo: Sarasota County

Many of Sarasota County's team members have worked together for over a decade and have developed close friendships in and out of work. 

Photo: Sarasota County

It’s that time of year when Leading Fleets applications are in and the judging begins. It’s not uncommon to see the many changes that have taken place among these fleets from one year to the next. For Sarasota County Fleet Services, Florida, which placed third overall in 2023, change has become a pivotal part of what has garnered the fleet’s success and a driving force to move the operation into the future. 

Sarasota County Fleet Services Fleet Manager Justin Mullins, CPFP, took some time to go over those changes and how they are making a difference among the team. The fleet manager broke down what it takes to run a 24-hour operation, from navigating deadly storms to building better internal customer relationships. 

Notable Changes Made by the Fleet Within the Past Year

Sarasota County Fleet Services has made multiple changes to the operation between 2023 and 2024. Though Mullins stated that most were small and incremental, they have added up. The fleet went from annual replacement meetings with each department to having quarterly meetings, discussing updates to equipment, maintenance, replacements, and any questions or issues that arise. 

“This has significantly improved our line of communications throughout the County,” Mullins noted. 

Additionally, the operation’s antiquated fleet reports have been upgraded and improved by Power BI reports, which pull critical data from the FMIS, telematics, and other databases. The reports are refreshed every evening, giving Mullins and the team a close to real-time pulse on KPIs. These are available to their customers to provide full transparency of the operation. 

“Combined, these advances have led to the most noticeable change, a very positive improvement in our relationship with our internal customers,” Mullins stated. 

Factors of Being a Top Leading Fleet 

Sarasota jumped into a higher spot for the 2023 Leading Fleets over the previous year. Mullins believes the fleet’s response and operation following Hurricane Ian may have led to this ranking. 

The second deadliest storm to strike the continental U.S. this century came through the area and left the county and several neighboring municipalities to operate their facilities, communication towers, and shelters on generators.

“Our team, who also sustained damage to their homes and had to deal with major flooding, selflessly returned to work the day after the storm to stand up fueling operations,” Mullins recalled. “Running a 24-hour operation, we successfully delivered over 43,000 gallons of fuel, supporting internal and external agencies.”

This around-the-clock operation continued for the course of eight days, all the while performing repairs and continued maintenance on the fleet. 

“Once the dust settled and we were able to resume normal operations, we could account for every drop of fuel dispensed,” Mullins explained. “The entire operation was a tremendous undertaking, and we are extremely proud of our team’s hard work and dedication.”

How the Fleet Has Been Overcoming Challenges 

As Sarasota County rolls into the FY25 budget development season, the team has been tasked with continuing the operation under a flat, or as close to a flat, budget as possible.

With the county’s continued growth and the continuing expansion in the number of the fleet’s vehicles and equipment, this task becomes more daunting each year, according to Mullins who added that unprecedented cost inflation has made it even more challenging.

“All of this has made the fleet take a very hard look at our operation and budget,” he explained. “By scrutinizing every line item and moving funds to the needed areas, we have, to date, kept the proposed budget flat.”

What makes Sarasota County Unique and Team Accomplishments

Although the fleet has three maintenance shops that maintain specific assets, all the technicians are qualified to work on any piece of equipment the county operates. At any given time, a technician could work on a small waste pump then their next job could be a large Vactor truck. 

“Our technicians’ professionalism and dedication to training are illustrated by the fact that all three of our shops are ASE Blue Seal certified, and one technician was awarded the ASE “World Class” status,” Mullins pointed out. “Only 2,000 technicians have earned this recognition since 1986, and we are proud to have one of our own on the roster.”

Additionally, Mullins is proud of the fleet’s close-knit team. Many team members have worked together for over a decade and have developed close friendships in and out of work. 

“We support this work-family culture wherever we can,” he stated. “This has included holding quarterly cookouts as a way to gather everyone together, break bread, give updates, celebrate success, and share upcoming challenges.”

👁 Read More About the Leading Fleets Award

The Leading Fleets award is designed to recognize high-performing government fleets. 

Current Projects and Future Goals  

One major project the fleet is working on is the construction of a new Fleet Service Support Facility that will allow the team to better service the county’s operations moving into the future. 

They are currently in the design phase of the new 88,000-plus square-foot facility that will combine two of our three shops and the acquisitions division. 

“This building will meet our needs with additional and larger repair bays, office space, and storage for our inbound/outbound assets,” Mullins stated. “The shop will be state-of-the-art and climate-controlled, which will have a positive effect on productivity and recruitment.”

The much-needed facility is slated for completion in early 2027 and, according to Mullins, will take the operation to the next level. 

A second major project is the implementation of telematics in the fleet, which is in the process of installing the hardware on all on-road vehicles. This phase will be completed by the summer, at which point they will begin fitting units onto all off-road equipment. 

“As anyone familiar with telematics knows, this system will greatly improve safety and operations,” Mullins noted. “The data from telematics will allow us and our internal customers to make more educated decisions in supporting the county’s goals and initiatives.”

Leadership is also a key player when it comes to what the fleet is doing. As Mullins pointed out, supportive leadership is key to an organization’s success. 

“We are very fortunate in the fact that our county’s leadership understands Fleet Services’ mission and they fully support our vision and strategic plan,” he noted. “This support has allowed us to make major improvements in a short amount of time.”

Within the division, the management team mirrors this leadership style. The team works to connect with each person on the team individually and has an open-door policy where everyone is encouraged to discuss whatever is on their mind. Mullins explained that most of their best ideas for improvement come from these interactions. 

“We spend time walking through each shop to chat with the technicians, not only about work but any personal topics they want to discuss,” he added. “We treat each team member as a family member, which resonates throughout our organization.”

Leadership makes it a habit to listen to what the technicians and supervisors ask for and provide quarterly in-house training sessions. Needed tools and equipment are also provided not only for day-to-day operations but to keep up with the latest and greatest in diagnostic software and shop equipment.  

“In its simplest form, leadership is caring about your team, listening to your team, and taking care of your team,” Mullins said. “If you do those things, they will be successful.”

Recommendations for Fleets Filling Out a Leading Fleet Application  

For Leading Fleets applications, Mullins recommends that fleets simply tell their story. 

“Your team works very hard each day to support your organization and the citizens of your municipality,” he noted. “This award is one way to give them some much-deserved recognition and a sense of pride for their efforts.”

Mullins also advises fleets to do the following: 

  • Take it seriously and put the required effort into the application. 
  • Start early and keep ideas/notes throughout the year. 
  • Involve the entire team or at least your management team in the effort. 
  • Give accurate and relevant KPIs and data while presenting a cohesive message that the judges can relate to. 

“At the end of the day, most fleet organizations are doing all the right things and have very similar initiatives,” he explained. “So, if your organization is doing something that you feel is unique, I would focus on it in your application. I’m sure that most fleets are already doing these things, and I haven’t said anything original, but it’s the best advice I have.”

About the author
Nichole Osinski

Nichole Osinski

Executive Editor

Nichole Osinski is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She oversees editorial content for the magazine and the website, selects educational programming for GFX, and manages the brand's awards programs.

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