The “Other” Option.
Last night, after listening to nearly two hours of public commentary which was unanimously and vehemently against outsourcing the San Carlos Police and Fire services, the City Council of San Carlos nonetheless advised the City Manager’s staff to continue investigating outsourcing as the primary option for balancing the budget in San Carlos. (It makes one wonder what the purpose of speaking at the Council meeting accomplishes?) But ironically, continuing to investigate this option is probably not a bad idea, because I believe they will find that cost savings that are being touted are severely overestimated, in part because they’re being gleaned from very preliminary proposals from both the Sheriff’s office and Cal Fire — AND because the level of service outlined in both proposals are not the same level of service that we have today. It will be interesting to see what the savings really look like when a more accurate comparison is done. Apples to apples.
But what about the “other” path that was proposed by the City Manager two weeks ago — the path that called for “cuts across the board,” instead of outsourcing Fire and Police Departments? After all, the whole reason that outsourcing is being so heavily pushed by the City was to avoid the draconian cuts that were proposed in this path. But have we given up on looking into budget cuts? I hope not, because on further analysis of what has been done to date, it’s very evident that more work needs to be done.
Flatter, not Fatter.
I have been through enough Silicon Valley re-organizations to know that cost savings are achieved in a re-org by “flattening” an organization. In other words, you end up having more employees reporting to fewer managers. It’s called efficiency, and it’s a key reason why middle-level managers are always a prime target during layoffs.
But San Carlos resident Mark Olbert did a very interesting side-by-side analysis that compares the City staffing as it stands today, versus what it would look like after the cuts outlined in the budget cut path. What he found is that was that the ratio of employees to managers actually decreases under the new proposal — or, in other words, our City becomes more top-heavy, not less. In his analysis, he refers to “span of control” as roughly the ratio of non-management employees versus supervisors. Here is what he found:
- Span of control before proposed cuts in Option 1: 4.3
- Span of control after proposed cuts in Option 1: 3.5
- Ideal ratio of employees/per manager: 6-7
- Another way of looking at the numbers is that approximately 23% of City employees had management/supervisor responsibility before the cuts. After the cuts, that number rises to 28%.
Here’s a summary of his analysis: City Staffing
What does this analysis tell us? First, even before a single cut is made, our current staffing level is already too top-heavy. A number of 4.3 is below what many believe is an optimal efficiency range for an organization of this size. Second, the cuts that Staff has proposed take us in the wrong direction — there are clearly more “worker bees” being cut than supervisors.
A More Aggressive Approach to Cost Cutting.
Last night, Council Member Matt Grocott presented an option that calls for across the board salary cuts for City management, as well as the elimination of the Assistant City Manager and Redevelopment Housing Manager positions. According to Mr. Grocott, no other positions would need to be eliminated and no closures or reduced services would be recommended under this plan.
Here are more details on his plan: City of SC Budget Proposal
This is a much more radical and aggressive approach to solving the budget gap, but to my knowledge it’s the first time that management pay scale has been discussed in any detail so far.
The Bottom Line
Both scenarios above make it glaringly obvious that if we’re serious about fixing our budget problem, we need to take a MUCH closer look at how our current city government is organized. And perhaps that “look” needs to happen from an impartial source outside of the City Manager’s Office. It’s probably not fair to ask the City Manager to proactively take money out of his own pocket, or to re-organize his direct circle of influence. But there are excellent consultants out there who specialize in civic organizational structure — ones that can take an impartial view of at what we have now, and create a more efficient organizational structure — something with a higher “span of control.” Who knows, perhaps we’ve already done this?
But we owe it to our Police, Firefighters, and Parks people to take this inward look at ourselves. Because right now, the burden of balancing the budget is still 100% on their shoulders.
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