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Looking behind the Scenes

Possible layoffs turn up the heat on the council

By: Jim Ruffalo
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Forget the theory of global warming for a minute, but continue to concentrate on how warm it might get locally. It won't take a weather report to predict some on-coming heat for the upcoming Auburn City Council elections. Granted that we won't know who's running until papers are officially pulled in July, but early hints say the just-announced city employees layoff schedule may be part of the campaign. Council members are finding out the truth about the bromide, which insists it's much easier to govern in flush fiscal times than it is in the fallow period. But as Mayor Keith Nesbitt says: We get elected to make the tough decisions. Nesbitt said careful consideration was given to prioritizing the layoffs. We did not want to make cuts in public safety, and we did not want too many cuts in any one department. These were not easy decisions, he said. There was nothing cavalier about reaching those decisions. I know and like these people, but we have to do something. The something could amount to as many as 10 current employees being let go, although the council has done quite a bit to make the exits easier to take. It not only opted to pay for two extra years of credit for retirement benefits, but also will grant an additional 30 days of pay. While we're on the subject of that two-year payoff, let's give kudos to the financial acumen that led to that decision. Granted, the city will pay an estimated $276,477 to purchase those extra two years, but it won't have to start making payments for at least two years, and has a decade to spread out that expense. Meanwhile, according to council member Mike Holmes, the city will save more than $600,000 had those employees remained on the payroll. And it should be pointed out, that the whole concept was discussed with the employees union, which went along with the idea. And, to be perfectly candid, that expense figure might have to be tweaked upward a bit. In any place yours truly has been where golden parachutes were unfurled, some of those affected became a bit recalcitrant (to be kind), and put in less than a day's effort, constantly grumbling along the way. Eventually, they were sent home on paid administrative leave. In the meantime, as Nesbitt put it: We're trying to make this as palatable as possible. He then went on to warn that ” if needed ” other actions may be considered. Nesbitt sees an upside in the current dilemma. We have an opportunity to become more efficient, and to insist upon more accountability if we take the right actions, he said. Some of those actions could well be a thorough reorganization of the current departments ensconced at city hall, with some organization brackets being combined into leaner super departments, much the way the county government did it a few years ago. Try showing me a large business or any sized government entity that couldn't do with a bit of pruning these days, although ” again ” Placer County government should be lauded for keeping its growth rate of employees down to an amazing rate during the past few years. To be perfectly frank, Auburn city government does have some under-performers in spots, and nobody can claim that there isn't an employee or supervisor or two that is completely indispensable. These are tough times, and with the price of gasoline bleeding us dry, it's no time to be considering tax hikes of any kind. Conversely, more than a few of those being let go have put in long and loyal hours with the city. Not only will they be missed, but it will be very difficult to make up for their soon-to-be gone work effort. It's obvious that the Auburn City Council knows these facts well, and is taking the drastic and necessary steps to alleviate the onset of problems. That's probably why the phrase hard-charging is suddenly becoming a well-used one within the confines of city hall. It's no secret we intend to reward those employees who produce, especially those who wind up saving us money, Nesbitt said, adding that the city began to make its intentions known when it recently instituted its pay for performance program. To put not too fine a point on it; the bottom line is the bottom line. The council decided that despite tough economic times being predicted, the city would burn up no more than a million bucks of its carefully hoarded reserves over the next three years. This is not something we wanted to do, Nesbitt said, adding You put positions down on paper, then decide which ones you can keep and which ones you can't, but during the whole time you never forget that these positions are people. Jim Ruffalo's column runs Wednesdays and Sundays in the Journal. He can be reached at jmruffalo@yahoo.com, or post a comment at auburnjournal.com.