The manager prefaced his remarks by stating the city had “too many employees in the wrong positions.”
The first proposal involves retaining a private management firm to run the city’s Water and Sewer Department.
“At the council meeting of Dec. 7, 2009, on the heels of issues concerning our city not being able to meet conditions of the (Environmental Protection Agency) compliance agreement and the (Alabama Department of Environmental Management) consent order, numerous safety issues, and a council tour of facilities, the council requested to enter into discussions with management firms to assume the operation of the Talladega Water and Sewer Department. The council had previously been made aware of the financial issues of the TWSD including fiscal deficiencies as outlined in audits from the last two years,” Stampfler said.
Six interested companies toured the city’s facilities and were interviewed, and four submitted complete proposals. Stampfler said two had submitted proposals in line with what the council had requested. “The aspect that remains is the matter of personnel benefits, a complicated issue that involves significant interplay between the city, the prospective companies, legal counsel and the Retirement System of Alabama in order to determine any proposed recommendations concerning city employees,” Stampfler said.
He went to read, “In regard to both the ADEM consent order and the EPA compliance agreement, it appears likely the TWSD will not meet the standards outlined in these documents; consequently I would not be in a position to certify compliance in the annual report to the EPA, due in September 2010. Many issues outlined in the compliance agreement and consent order remain unaddressed, including the Shocco Pump Station repair, collection system improvements, implementation of the Fats, Oils and Grease ordinance and sanitary sewer overflows. It is a distinct possibility that the compliance agreement and/or consent order will be continued or that debarment could occur due to a lack of progress on the goals that were agreed to by the city but have not been able to be completed. In reality, the TWSD has neither the professional expertise and leadership nor the funds to meet the terms of compliance agreement and consent order. The efforts of the city to contract the management of the utility and improve the financial standing of the utility represent the only real long-term solution to the situation.”
Stampfler said he would need an additional eight to 10 weeks to negotiate a solution with one of the two companies.
The Council along with Council President Horace Patterson have insisted that public hearings would proceed any major change such as this.
The second and third proposals both arise from vacancies that cannot be filled in various city departments due to a hiring freeze implemented last year.
The Community Appearance Department has lost six employees to retirement, termination or death and director Mitch Bast has not been able to replace the vacancies. Stampfler recommended transferring the Parks Maintenance Department and municipal golf course staff into Community Appearance, which Stampfler said would result in improved efficiency and create costs savings of $74,000 per year by eliminating four of the six positions, without impacting service.
All the employees involved would either keep their current rate of pay or get raises, and two would also get significant promotions.
The third proposal would involve closing the Bemiston and Brecon Recreation Centers, which were utilized by a combined 25 patrons per week between August and November.
“During the same four month time period, the Brecon Center posted a loss of $15,110.47, while the Bemiston Center showed a loss of $9,463.38,” Stampfler read. “It is projected at this rate the two centers lose roughly $100,000 over the course of this fiscal year along. Based on the poor usage of the centers and the very significant cost to the city, it is recommended that both these centers be closed as soon as possible. This measure would include no elimination of jobs; all staff from Bemiston and Brecon would be relocated to fill existing vacancies within the Spring Street Recreation Center at current rates of pay.”
If implemented by April 1, Stampfler said the city would save $20,000 this year in operating expenses, and would allow for the re-direction of $48,000 in capital improvements funds to be used at the Spring Street Recreation Center and the B.N. Mabra Community Center, which are much more highly utilized.
Filling the two vacancies would save the city $23,774, with a total savings coming to $91,744.40.
The fourth proposal involved filling the positions of Public Works director (held on an interim basis by former assistant director Karen Phillips) and assistant police chief, a position Stampfler recommended but has not been filled.
Councilman Eddie Tucker complained that “all savings cannot be had on the backs of the recreation centers. They don’t even have a secretary or a program director.”
Stampfler pointed out no employees from the department would be laid off, and at a minimum all would retain their current salaries. Councilman Donnie Miller renewed his complaint that insufficient effort was being placed on youth sports and recruiting.
Patterson said he would “like to see additional proposals for other departments to be cut. There is a popular mind set out there that we were in the dark ages before certain people arrived, but it seems to me we have created a lot of positions recently, and some of those might need to be cut. It seems loyalty means nothing. People devote their lives to this city and you say we have too many employees in the wrong position. The problems at the Water Department are not the employees’ fault, they are the fault of mismanagement by the board lingering across the years. I haven’t seen anything that says we can’t realize these goals with our current staff.”
This last remark was greeted with applause from the employees in the audience.
Patterson then stated repeatedly that he wanted the discussion of the management contract to include “anything that they could do that we couldn’t do on our own.”
Councilman Lance Grissett agreed that some economic austerity might be needed, “but I have a problem with saying this is the only ‘long-term solution.’ We discussed privatizing a year or so ago, and the concerns then had to do with employee benefits, insurance and retirement. I don’t understand how a private company can pay into the RSA.”
Stampfler said several times the final agreement hadn’t been worked out yet, he would need eight to 10 more weeks, but the conditions of any agreement would be that every employee would either retain their current salary or get a raise, and that fringe benefits would be included.
He went on to point out the changes he was recommending did not result in the net loss of a single job, but if the status quo were allowed to continue, the city would be forced to start laying off employees in the none too distant future.
“There will be individual judgments, but you have to consider service to citizen. Service has been our motto, our mindset, our purpose since long before you got here,” Patterson said. “I appreciate what you’re saying, but we need to look at it and compare it to what we’ve got. It’s not the employees out in the community, the employees are the community.”
All of these proposals will be discussed again during a budget work session which is currently set for March 26, with a second session on March 29 if needed.