This is the Weekly Review by the Auburn City Manager.
By Glenn E. Aho
Auburn City Manager
It’s the size of an iceberg that’s beneath the water that’s impressive, not what shows above; in fact, almost 90% of an iceberg remains under water and hidden from view. The same can be said of where the true savings in local government are—hidden from view.
What people don’t always see is the internal operations of local government, which can be the true cause of needless expenditures. Here are a few examples.
First, outdated job descriptions can, and usually do, lead to poor performance. Residents want accountable and efficient employees working for their government so that’s what our expectations should be. Auburn is taking a wholesale approach and updating every one of our 70 or so job descriptions. Gone will be the Betty Crocker-like job descriptions that were simply a to-do list of limiting activities.
Here to stay, for the time being, are job descriptions that set employee standards and behaviors. To be accountable and efficient, employees must exercise independent judgment, support organizational initiatives, demonstrate a positive attitude, identify problems, be safety conscious and offer improvement suggestions, to name a few. The new job descriptions create an “engaged employee,” rather than one who is not engaged.
How does this become a cost savings? Let’s say an employee is responsible for identifying workplace, occupational hazards, but falls and injures themselves after standing on a wheeled office chair while reaching for something on the top shelf. The new job descriptions impose employee responsibility, such as safety, so that hopefully this incident, along with the corresponding workers compensation and lost time costs, are entirely avoided. If the employee ignores the responsibility for being safe, then that becomes an issue of poor judgment.
Second, after reviewing how many residents actually take advantage of Auburn Hall being open early throughout the week, it doesn’t generate a lot of business. For example, the tax office serves on average two people during the early morning hour. Aside from costing the city about $140 in staff wages for those who report early, it creates a staffing shortage at the end of the day.
With fewer employees due to past layoffs, there are fewer employees to spread the workload. Take our phone system, for example. With fewer people there are fewer people to answer the phone. By concentrating available labor resources we hope to spread the workload, be more available during normal business hours and create fewer work interruptions for those who are assigned to answering phones.
Third, we are nearly complete with our efforts in restructuring Auburn’s city government so that we better utilize available resources. One example of our restructuring has been to have Public Works manage the Engineering Department and to organize all departments into three team groups, which reduces the span-of-control of the city manager and fosters department communication and teamwork.
Though we’ve not entirely completed this project, we estimate our annual savings will be $25,000 to $30,000. These savings are in addition to the annual savings of $633,000 resulting from our labor-reduction plan undertaken over the past two years.
Fourth, we’ve been considering possible space options for Auburn Hall so that the building’s resources are better utilized. We started by consolidating the school department to the fourth floor. We then moved Finance to the first floor and Assessing to another location on the first floor.
We are now considering moving our ICT department from the basement to the first floor near the Finance and Clerk’s office.
APD in Auburn Hall. All of these moves serve to improve the space utilization at Auburn Hall so that both the basement and third floors will be empty and available—but available for what?
We’ve considered renting available space at Auburn Hall to private business, and we’ve invited the County Commissioners to consider the space. But now we’re seriously considering the possibility of moving Auburn Police Department (APD) to Auburn Hall.
The concept is to locate patrol in the basement and administration on the third floor. How does this serve to better use available resources? First, moving APD to Auburn Hall will finish our efforts to fully utilize Auburn Hall to its fullest potential. Second, the city will immediately save on an annual basis about $57,000 in electrical, fuel costs and other general repairs.
Third, the city will immediately avoid future capital costs of about $200,000 in necessary police department building repairs. Fourth, the land at 1 Minot Avenue, the current location for the APD, which is now valued at $146,000, could be sold to the highest bidder—I’m sure the land sale would garner more than that!
Moving APD to Auburn Hall would require the City Council to re-allocate already approved capital funds, estimated to be about $40,000, for Auburn Hall renovations. We will continue reviewing this option and plan to introduce it to the City Council in January so that the move could potentially occur immediately.
Reducing the property tax burden is a priority of Auburn’s staff. We continually look to those areas that will generate the greatest savings. Like an iceberg, those areas are most likely beneath the waterline and hidden from view. As public servants, it’s our responsibility to identify those hidden savings and present them in plain view so that we realize the greatest potential for savings and do our part to reduce the property tax burden.
General Assistance. Many people question the cost of providing General Assistance, but most would be surprised to know just how little Auburn spends. According to the Maine Department of Human Services, Auburn pays $3.14 per capita on General Assistance.
Dot Meagher manages the program for the city and she does an excellent job, especially in comparison to what other municipalities expend. Overall per capita costs are based upon population, departmental staffing, and more.
Electric Bill. The city owns 29 Library Ave., which serves as the workshop and storage area for the city’s Electrical Division. The building was equipped with an electrical heater, which annually generates a $9,400 electric bill.
There are two heating options, one of which is to install an oil-fired boiler, which would cost about $12,000, or a gas-fired boiler, which would cost about $9,000. The project would most likely have less than a three-year return on our investment.
This project will be revisited and included as an option in the FY12 Municipal Capital Improvement Budget.