Citizen advisors to the San Marino City Council’s Ad Hoc Budget Committee delivered their final report to committee members and Council Members Allan Yung and Steve Talt on Jan. 3 after a year-long review process of the City of San Marino’s administrative functions and parks and public works department.
Following a review of the 16-page document by the city’s labor attorney, the report was made available to The Tribune last week.
“We believe immediate changes are required to avoid unnecessary costs, improve management and deliver the range and quality of services our citizens expect and deserve,” collectively penned citizen advisors and residents Dan Biles, Alfred Boegh, Stef Dietrich, Hal Harrigian and Susan Jakubowski.
The advisors made a total of 46 recommendations, which span numerous city operations, such as payroll, human resources, accounting, budgeting, information technology, work schedules, strategic long-term planning, infrastructure, citizen access and other areas.
The advisors’ recommendations are paired with explanations, which were informed by numerous interviews with city staff, analyses of city documents, observations of city operations and the authors’ perceptions of government.
At the council’s Jan. 11 meeting, Mayor Richard Sun thanked the citizen advisors for their efforts to produce a document that he described as a “very detailed report with many, many recommendations.”
“This is just the beginning of the implementation process, so today is the first meeting for this,” Sun noted, stating that interim City Manager Cindy Collins has already initiated many of the recommendations found in the report. “The council needs to have time to study this one and the staff needs to study this one,” he added, requesting that Collins submit city staff’s analysis of the report when it is ready.
The report recommends a variety of changes to city staffing levels.
One such recommendation is the combination of the roles of assistant city manager and community services director, currently performed by Lucy Garcia, and finance director, which has been contracted out to MV Cheng & Associates since July, 2016.
Another recommendation requests that the city add an accountant to the city’s finance team to assist in the installation and documentation of proper accounting procedures and internal controls to correct deficiencies that were identified by auditors.
The report describes financial control of city funds as “highly decentralized” and found the city procedures and internal controls to be “not adequate to limit opportunities for significant losses.”
“If money is available in the budget, few questions appear to be asked,” the report adds.
A permanent human resources professional may aid in the operation of the city, the report added. The city currently receives contracted human resources services.
An HR professional would be needed, the report recommends, to work on “the immediate development or updating and implementation of appropriate employment policies and procedures,” “the immediate creation and publication of a current employee handbook,” and “the practice of formal documentation of employee participation in training programs covering legally sensitive issues.”
To limit and recover costs, the citizen advisors included that fees for the accountant and human resources professional are not to exceed the budgeted cost of the finance director, which is $196,200 according to the approved 2016-17 fiscal year budget.
The report also recommends hiring a technology director to, among other duties, evaluate software currently used by the city to support project management, financial information sharing, policy and procedure documentation and to improve the city’s website, which the report describes as “incomplete and often out of date.”
The city utilizes a software known as Springbook, which, the report notes, provides a variety of modules that can aid the city in accomplishing several of the goals set out by the report, including improved budgeting practices and technological integration of accounting and payroll functions.
It recommends in the report that the city employ a receptionist to improve citizen access to city hall. The recommendation appears to be a result of the observation, which is noted in the report, that “visitors are often not greeted or wait for the planning staff to serve others first.”
“This person can direct visitors, perform clerical services for various departments and answer those callers seeking to speak with a ‘real person,’” the report said of the “dedicated receptionist” position.
The requirement that city employees update their voice message greetings on a daily basis, leave “out of office messages,” and respond to citizen’s emails and written communications within two business days are also listed as recommendations in the report.
The report also advises the update of the city’s telephone system, preferably as a lease, an approach that the report also recommends for many of the city’s vehicles and public works equipment.
Citizen advisors also expressed a desire to expand the city’s work week from four to five days, which, the report states, will require the revision of some employees’ work schedules to not increase their total hours or cost.
The report also highlights the “extra-ordinary freedom” given to staff in creating their work schedules and calls for a “thorough review of work schedules and immediate changes to conform with labor laws.”
Citizen advisors then claimed that “financial reporting to managers and the council is grossly inadequate.”
In order to provide complete financial information to managers or department directors, the report recommends “that financial statements comparing actual receipts and disbursements compared with the budget be prepared and distributed to management and the council within five business days after each month.”
The report further recommends the creation of two new committees. It requested that council appoint a citizen committee to “understand and advise on how to deal with [the] growing [pension] liability.”
The pension liability, referred to as “the elephant in the room,” is made larger as a result of “low earnings on investments,” according to the report.
Low earnings are also cited as cause for a second committee, which would be tasked with improvement of the city’s treasury function.
A finance committee, which the report notswas once a standing city committee and appeared to be envisioned as a group of “professional money managers,” could help the council “revisit the investment policy.”
The citizen advisors requested a more active role be played by the city’s treasurer, as well.
The report suggeststhat planning may be a desired solution to more effective spending of government dollars and resources.
“A comprehensive definition and description of all city services needs to be developed. Specific activities must be outlined for each service. Resources needed to provide these services must be defined. Such a plan will drive staffing and spending,” the citizen advisors wrote.
The advisors recommend that the council “[define] goals and objectives and assign staff to work with citizens to develop plans for achieving them.”
Some goals include a cost-benefit analysis of all city-owned facilities, a recreation department needs assessment study, and the formalization of plans and funding to address the city’s aging sewer system and declining roads.
The report notes that City Engineer Dan Wall, also the city’s parks and public works director, estimated “a minimum annual cost of $4.3 million over the next 10 years to adequately maintain the streets.” The city has currently budgeted $1.25 million per year for street maintenance.
According to the report, Wall also estimated that it will cost the city approximately $600,000 per year over the next 30 years to replace the city’s aging sewer system. “Adequate funds have not yet been set aside for that replacement,” the report reads.
Citizen advisors agreed with Wall that “the council needs to consider infrastructure maintenance a priority ahead of other areas and increase funding.” The report also praises Wall for the near-future installation of a computerized system for planning, tracking and control of projects.
However, the citizen advisors critique the department, noting that public works employees “do not report time spent by category or even in total by project.” As a result, “there is no way to evaluate the cost effectiveness of staff utilization.”
The report recommends that the city engineer internalize formally external engineering costs, utilize a commercial gardening maintenance firm to conduct lawn maintenance at Lacy Park and other green areas, fully automate the city’s irrigation system at Lacy Park, and reduce vehicle maintenance staff from two to one person.
“We asked some really tough questions and we asked for documents that maybe didn’t exist or weren’t easily available. It was frustrating. It was difficult,” stated Jakubowski, a citizen advisor, during the council meeting. “And everyone in the end came through and I think it’s a statement for the attitude the city employees have. So we thank them very much.”