“A Paradigm Shift”
In last week’s press release in which he formally unveiled his preference to outsource the Police, Fire, and Park Maintenance services, San Carlos City Manager Mark Weiss spoke of a need to change the way we provide services in the future:
“What I am proposing in this year’s budget is a paradigm shift in how we view City services in San Carlos. Rather than continue to attempt to provide the full range of City services mostly in-house, I believe it is time to accelerate the use of contract services in several areas in an effort to improve efficiency and take advantage of economies of scale, while embracing a regional service delivery model.”
There has been quite a bit of discussion on this site already about two of the proposals that are on the table right now. But setting aside the specifics of these proposals for a moment, and focusing instead on the general concept behind this paradigm shift, the question begs to be asked:
Why Not Other Departments?
If you take a quick look at how the City of San Carlos is organized and which services the City currently provides in-house, you start to see that there are a number of other services that could also be potentially handled by an outside agency. San Mateo County already has a Building Department, a Planning Department, and probably a Housing Department — Emerald Hills, and other communities in the County utilize these resources already. The County also has the infrastructure to handle Administration and Payroll, and I would imagine that their benefits package is more cost-effective simply due to the economies of scale. And the list goes on…
Now before you fire up the hate mail, understand that I have the utmost respect for the professionals that currently serve these roles in San Carlos (just as I do our Police and Fire Departments.) I call on them quite often for information and clarification on building codes, or an update on what’s happening on Wheeler Plaza, etc.. I have spoken with several council members who refer to this group as “the brains behind the operation”, and I totally concur. I’m not suggesting for a nanosecond that we remove a single one of them.
But in the spirit of “the same or better service” mantra that’s being repeated regarding the Fire and Police proposals on the table, couldn’t the same “paradigm shift” be applied to other departments achieve additional cost savings to the City of San Carlos?
Of Course Not.
There are probably a hundred reasons one could envision for not doing this — and the top of the list would be that wouldn’t want to risk losing the Al Savay’s, or Mark Sawicki’s, or Deborah Nelson’s or, Chris Valley’s that we have already…although one could apply the same argument that working for a larger organization provides more career opportunities — you know, the same carrot that we’re dangling in front of our police force right now. But then shouldn’t we have the same concern about losing our Police Commanders, Detectives, Fire Captains, and Engineers?
Is it really fair to apply this “paradigm shift” to only a select few departments in the City of San Carlos? Sure, public safety accounts for about 57% of our current budget. But what about the other 43%? With such dramatic savings being touted by outsourcing Fire and Police, couldn’t some additional savings be achieved by applying this principle across the board?
Maybe that way, we could bring back a live receptionist at City Hall. Or staff an additional officer during our peak hours. Or put a fourth firefighter on our rigs?
What Does it Say if We Don’t?
Perhaps there are no savings to be gained by further outsourcing. But if we proceed down our current path of just outsourcing Public Safety, what does that say about our value system? Is it right that we apply a different yardstick to one department, and not another? What keeps coming back to me are the following two thoughts:
- Either our City Manager views Public Safety as a commodity, even though he states otherwise. Or,
- If we can’t apply the same model across the board, maybe outsourcing isn’t the right solution after all.
What are your thoughts?
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