Job cuts could be on the horizon

tfain@macon.comOctober 18, 2009 

Mayor Robert Reichert’s “right-sizing” initiative with the city’s work force remains “a work in progress” with no definite timetable, the mayor said.

Reichert said changes from a continuing review will need to be made “sooner rather than later,” however, and certainly well before he submits a new budget to the City Council next year. He said he hopes to find savings for the cash-strapped city and that employee furloughs, avoided earlier this year, may end up back on the table.

Reichert also reiterated that there’s no list of potential position cuts or firings. The mayor said he doesn’t even know yet whether he’ll recommend cutting positions, although “it’s fair to say that there is an assumption that we have too many” employees.

“But I would hasten to say that that needs to be determined,” Reichert said. “(We may also) have too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”

That’s something council President Miriam Paris agreed with, saying she believes the city is “top heavy” and that any cuts “could start with those salaries.”

Thomas Thomas, Macon’s chief administrative officer, has been working on the review for several months, meeting with city department heads and going through the city’s payroll position by position to try to “right size” the city’s work force. Thomas, who said in August that the review could be finished within three weeks, called the process tedious last week and said it’s difficult to talk in specifics “because I’ve got over 1,000 examples of what I’m looking at.”

All of the city’s 1,285 or so filled positions are being looked at, Thomas and Reichert both said. And “the closest thing we’ve got to a list right now would have 1,285 names on it,” Reichert said. He said no department head has been given a number of jobs that they must cut. Instead, they’ve been asked to look for efficiencies themselves.

He also said he’s trying to dovetail this process with ongoing talks with Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart over the delivery of services as well as consolidation. The two men, with staff support and help from planners at the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, are working on the details of various changes.

They’re hoping to get animal control services and the city and county engineering functions merged by the end of the year, Reichert said, though the idea of an engineering merger has lingered for years without success.

SOFTENED POSITIONS?

Reichert said the City Council will be involved in the right-sizing process “to a significant degree toward the end.” But for now, it’s Thomas’ process to run, and the eventual proposal to council will be “ours and ours alone,” Reichert said. And though Reichert was unable to get a proposal to furlough city employees through the City Council earlier this year, he said months of poor revenue collections since then have softened members to his position.

But Reichert also won a battle in the interim, winning a council vote that would seem to give him the power to furlough or lay off employees without council approval. Even so, Reichert said last week that he could “find a majority on council” for his right-sizing efforts.

Paris and other council members haven’t been involved in this review, but she said the council will be “open to whatever the mayor proposes.” She said the city has made moves to patch its budget for years, but when it comes to job cuts now, “I don’t know how we will escape it.”

“It’s been my understanding that our work force is too large for our city.” Paris said. “We have tried to delay (cuts) as long as we could and, at the end of the day, if the economy isn’t turning as fast as we need it to, then we have to look internally.”

Reichert said it’s “absolutely crucial” to go through the effort. He called right-sizing “a keystone” of his administration. Then he stood up, emptied his pockets and pulled them inside out.

“Here’s a graphic,” he said. “We’re broke. ... And we’ve got to put a pay scale in place.”

The city operates with limited cash reserves, and the pay scale — particularly for the police department — has been a too-expensive priority for city leaders going back years now. The idea is to implement salary steps that employees can see and trust. The police department says it loses a lot of young officers once they’ve been trained because they can go to another department and make more money.

Pushed for examples of the cuts that might be coming as part of the right-sizing effort, Reichert pointed to the city’s Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments. Both of them have crews to cut grass, Public Works along streets and Parks and Recreation in city parks. Perhaps those operations could be combined, he said.

“Maybe you end up with one less supervisor. ...” he said. “We’re looking at all kind of things like that.”

Reichert said there has been resistance from some department heads, and that some of them were told that they could do this review “or we’d do it for them.”

The Telegraph spoke to three department heads about the initiative last week, and though they said some departments are resisting the process, all three said there was at least some merit to it.

One of them said he was glad the mayor and CAO gave department heads a chance to look for changes instead of telling them to cut 5 percent or 10 percent, moves that the state government has made to balance its budget as the economy saps tax revenues.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.

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