Director resigns; $30,000 to survey 1,200 Sequim city and area residents.”
Those were headlines that nearly made me drop my cup of morning coffee.
With last week’s announcement that Sequim Interim Planning Director Joe Irvin has resigned effective April 15, a baker’s dozen of staff have left the city since May 2008.
The question on the minds of many is who’s next to leave city government?
The phrase uttered by Sequim City Manager Steve Burkett as people have left the employ of the city has been that he is taking the city to the “next level of professionalism.”
Sequim had been on the road to incremental change well before Burkett arrived in October 2008. That evolution was less reliant on wholesale change, paying out-of-state consultants, raising the pay of management and failing to invest in staff.
Severance payments, unemployment costs, incentive pay for interim assignments, payments to recruiters and lost productivity have by some accounts exceeded $800,000. You can hide some costs and ignore “soft” expenses. But anyone in business or government knows that high staff turnover and then recruiting new employees is not cheap, efficient nor cost-effective.
In these lean times with high unemployment and a shaky economy, wouldn’t some lower-cost alternatives make sense instead of a $30,000 survey?
The International City/County Management Association has a survey service. The National Citizen Survey is available to cities at $9,900 and allows you to compare your results with similar-sized communities.
Peninsula College is just a few miles down the road. I’d guess between the professors and students that even for $5,000 a pretty comprehensive survey could be developed.
ICMA will sell you a book for $58 and you can learn all about citizen surveys, maybe even create your own and distribute it as Port Angeles did, as an insert in everyone’s utility bill.
On the other hand, the $30,000 survey that the ETC Institute in Kansas will develop for the city actually is two surveys. One is a parks and recreation survey. A natural partner might have been Clallam County Park and Recreation District No. 1. Most folks know that district as the Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center. According to SARC representatives, they’ve not been contacted or consulted in any way about a survey that will be sent out to residents that comprise their district, which is far outside the borders of Sequim.
The second survey covers city operations and questions that ETC will develop with the city. Other clients that use ETC include Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Oakland, Las Vegas and San Diego, just to name a few. It’s nice to know that Sequim is in the company of such large metropolitan cities that would require the services ETC provides.
Remember that the change of city councils in 2008 came on a platform of “smart growth.” Many have since argued that really meant “no growth.” Today building a new home in Sequim can include $20,000-$25,000 in city permit fees.
Those candidates then voiced concerns that city departments had grown to be too large and that change was needed. Other than turning over staff and hiring new staff, the city budget has grown.
What has changed is that a new $60,000 a year public relations manager is on the payroll, the consulting firm of CFM in Oregon received a $40,000-a-year contract for lobbying and consultants all the way from Cincinnati have flown out to conduct retreats and training.
This month, Burkett received a compensation increase, which according to the city totals $8,807 annually. This includes deferred compensation payments, increases his car allowance and grants additional vacation time.
Burkett’s base pay is $120,000 a year, if you look at total compensation, which includes medical/dental/vision coverage, vehicle costs and the new deferred compensation, you’re really looking at a cost nearing $160,000 or more.
What is missing from this growing list of expenses is the group of folks who actually conduct the back-breaking work of our city. The public works staff, the street department, the wastewater reclamation operators and, dare I say, the police officers. They didn’t see increases in their compensation like Burkett did. Think about who really is working long and hard out there in the rain, in the snow and in the middle of the night.
At the same time the Boys & Girls Club Teen Center program was slashed radically, support for economic development was cut by more than 70 percent last year and was continued in 2011. Out-of-state consultants are being paid for retreats and for lobbying efforts, and the contingency fund at City Hall continues to bleed.
Sequim has benefited from sales tax revenues. Thank goodness that the walls for the new Ross Dress for Less and a new warehouse grocer are going up. Of course the expansion of Walmart into a Super Walmart also is needed if the city continues to fund pet projects, rising management costs and more consultants.
It was refreshing to see that Sequim Mayor Ken Hays declared in the media that he would take responsibility for how the city is spending its money. He may get the chance to do just that.
Mayor Pro-tem Laura Dubois stated that she’d probably consider doing a second survey. At $30,000 a pop, maybe she can lead the effort to raise funds outside of the city budget.
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