Warner Robins taking closer look at hiring

mstucka@macon.comMarch 9, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- In several meetings this year, Warner Robins political leaders have been told the city has grown fast, but its staffing has not. The person who might recommend adding employees in some areas is, ironically, a person not yet hired.

Mayor Randy Toms has seen the city add plenty of people and land since he started working as a firefighter about three decades ago. U.S. Census figures show that the city more than doubled in size, to 35 square miles, just since 1990. In that same year, the census showed 43,726 people, about three-fifths of the latest population estimate of 70,712 residents.

Most of that growth has come in the last 10 to 15 years, Toms said.

“A lot of our departments have the same staff numbers as they had back then. I think that’s self-explanatory,” he said. “At the same time, you’ve got to do more with less. I’m not saying we’ve got to triple our staffing, I’m not saying that at all, but the people who work for the city of Warner Robins, it’s demonstrative of how much they get done.”

Toms said he hopes to have a proposal to select an internal auditor in the next month, who would be tasked with finding new efficiencies and shortfalls in the city. Such a position was recommended by the city’s external auditors, who praised the city’s management while urging it to consider adding some workers, particularly an internal auditor.

Auditor Marlan Nichols told the City Council a week ago that the city is one of the biggest businesses in the area, and an internal auditor could investigate controls, fixed-asset accounting, purchasing policies and other details that could save the city money -- and avoid big problems.

“Did any of you hear about Bibb County’s Board of Education?” he asked, as a way of explaining potential risks. A recent audit of the Bibb County school system found that tens of millions of dollars had been obligated without proper board authorization.

Nichols said the position would probably pay for itself in savings.

The city had set aside $35,000 to hire an internal auditor, and a proposal to select one was drafted but never actually sent out. At the beginning, the internal auditor would likely be a contracted employee.

“I just think we need an internal audit person to come in,” Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins said.

Toms said he plans to present a proposal for selecting that internal auditor at the City Council’s April 3 board retreat.

“In the internal audit, I want to look at the organizational flow chart of our city and make sure we are properly staffed and getting the best use of our personnel,” he told The Telegraph. “Make sure we’re not duplicating services, ... making sure we’re getting the best use of our personnel without absolutely working them to death.”

Filling vacancies

But the staffing picture won’t be particularly clear until vacant positions are filled. The City Council has begun discussing proposals on how to retain police officers, which could involve bonuses for education or military service.

Toms said he plans to review a 3-year-old compensation study and see how City Council implemented parts of it two years ago.

“We need to take a fresh look at our overall compensation. Certainly you can’t pay all these people what they deserve, but at the same time our benefits are excellent,” Toms said. “When you put the whole package together, we’re probably not as far off as you think.”

Toms said such a review could suggest ways to “restructure the pay scale to best serve our employees.”

Adding new staff would be expensive, as would any across-the-board salary increases. The city’s current budget calls for some $27.2 million in salaries and benefits, from a budget of $35.6 million. Put another way, more than three-quarters of the cost of running Warner Robins comes from its people, and a 1-percent increase in salary and benefits would cost about $270,000.

Even if there were time to analyze the staffing before the next city budget is drafted this spring, Toms said, a lagging economy leaves money tight. He said he plans to meet with department heads in the next few days, “talking with them about trying to plan to hold firm, let me get through this next year without asking for a lot more.”

It’s not easy to compare Warner Robins’ staffing with that of other cities. Warner Robins’ history is intertwined with that of the biggest employer, Robins Air Force Base. The city has suburban characteristics, but it also sprawls toward other communities. The closest cities in population to Warner Robins are Johns Creek, a nearly new city that has contracted out much of its services; Alpharetta and Marietta, two densely packed Atlanta suburbs; and Albany, the only city in its county, and a community with a much longer and convoluted history.

Albany has budgeted for 250 people in its police department and 211 people in its fire department. Warner Robins has 164 positions in its police department and 122 in its fire department.

But smaller departments can have even starker differences. For example, Albany’s information technology department is budgeted for 16 people, compared to Warner Robins’ five positions.

Warner Robins’ information technology director, Joe Segreto, told the City Council earlier this year that the city no longer has a programmer on staff who could fix problems.

“We use a lot of technology, and we’ve grown enormously,” Segreto said in January. When Councilman Chuck Shaheen suggested that the police department alone could use an IT person, Segreto agreed.

In the mid-February discussion of police staffing, Chief Brett Evans said Warner Robins is authorized to have 1 sworn police officer for every 598 city residents, well off Columbus’ ratio of 1 officer for every 406 residents. Council members focused on ways to retain police officers, rather than increasing the staff.

Toms told The Telegraph he shares that view.

“Serious issues get brought up if you start talking about increasing your staff, and I think we need to make sure all the areas of our city where there are openings, we get those openings filled,” he said. “And we’re working on that in our police department, we’re working on increasing retention, and we’re working on increasing the morale.”

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service