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Prudent policy produces healthy bottom line for city

March 6, 2012

Leaders at City Hall have abided by a fiscally conservative policy for decades when filling vacant positions, resulting in cost savings and fewer employees today than in 1980. The City Council and Administrator Keith Caldwell stress this policy’s success is due to the city’s hard-working, dedicated and innovative workforce. File photo

Civic leaders’ reputation for fiscal conservatism was on display again in recent days as they took steps to ensure measured growth to the City of Bishop’s workforce.
At the request of City Administrator Keith Caldwell, the City Council agreed Feb. 27 to extend Bishop’s hiring freeze for the remainder of current Fiscal Year 2011-12 and through FYs 2012-13 and 2013-14.
Initially implemented by the city in 2004 based on a policy dating back to the 1980s, the hiring freeze essentially means approval must be obtained from the City Council before any vacancy – part-time and seasonal positions included – is filled. The idea, according to Caldwell, is to first give department heads and then the council the chance to review the tasks associated with that position and personnel costs involved, and determine whether those duties can be carried out at a cost savings.
It’s a philosophy, Councilman Jeff Griffiths noted at the meeting, that city leaders “put in place” in the late ’80s and “maintained in good financial times and not so good financial times.”
Most of the positions end up filled, Caldwell said later, but the policy has allowed the city to “re-evaluate and redesign” some posts, consolidate others, re-assign tasks to other employees and generally streamline the city’s organizational structure.
Caldwell pointed to himself as an example of this streamlining. Originally hired on as Community Services Director, he also now serves double-duty as City Administrator – a position that already runs a wide gamut of responsibilities.
Even more recently, the Bishop Police Department created a new position, a Police Service Technician, out of an existing dispatcher vacancy in order to lighten the workload among sworn officers.
The move is anticipated to result in a cost savings to the City of Bishop’s General Fund of more than $80,000 in FY 2012-13, according to Chief Chris Carter.
The city’s entire budget for the current fiscal year, 2011-12, comes in at $10,086,201 – a robust figure for a city the size of Bishop.
A little more than half of that money – $5,762,694 – lies in the General Fund with the rest – $4,754,074 – in the city’s Enterprise Fund, also known as its Water and Sewer Fund.
Seventy-five percent of Bishop’s budget is used to pay employee salary and benefits; most comes from the General Fund although part of Public Works’ employees’ salaries are paid through the Enterprise Fund.
According to Caldwell, that 75 percent is almost evenly split between salaries and benefits. For example, an employee receiving a $50,000 a year salary will also receive about $50,000 in benefits annually.
These salaries and benefits are currently paid to 34 active employees and 41 retirees, not including the City Council.
Taking the time to conduct a prudent review of job vacancies has created a situation where the city has “fewer employees than we did in 1980,” Griffiths said at the meeting. “That’s probably unheard of of any governing body anywhere.”
Most importantly, he added, less employees – essentially a smaller government – has not translated to fewer services for residents and visitors. In fact, Griffiths said, the city continues to expand the services it offers to the citizenry, from improved water and sewer to a whole spate of new parks and recreation programs to facilities upgrades.
The city’s hiring philosophy is also partially responsible for the $1.8 million it has in reserves when there is so much fiscal uncertainty and pressure coming from the state level.
“The city is in quite good financial shape,” Caldwell said, stressing that credit goes to current and long-standing conservative fiscal policy and hard-working employees.
He elaborated: “The city is really budget-focused and has been budget-focused for years and years. This particular City Council is really fiscally conscious. And we have outstanding employees.
“Some do 3-4 jobs. It’s just a great place to work because everybody seems to ‘get it.’ We don’t want to waste a single dollar or cent of taxpayer money.”

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