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Doing more with less

October 15, 2012

This small cluster of city government buildings houses the central offices of the Finance, Fire, Police, Public Works and Parks and Recreations departments. The State of the City revealed that the city is doing more with less. Photo by Marilyn Blake Philip

City department heads had the opportunity to list widespread accomplishments during Bishop’s first State of the City report Oct. 9.
The idea came to Bishop City Council’s attention when various council members attended state meetings, such as League of California Cities, said City Administrator Keith Caldwell.
“We are proud of our city,” Caldwell continued. “It’s an opportunity to toot our own horn … It’s amazing what we can do with so few people,” said Caldwell of the city’s 34 full-time employees. “In these economic times, it’s more important than ever to find creative and innovative projects. We’re doing more with less while still providing quality city services. And our door is always open to new ideas.”
Caldwell then opened the floor to heads of the Finance, Fire, Police, Public Works and Parks and Recreation Departments, who gave reports of accomplishments achieved and challenges faced over the past few years.
Finance Department Assistant Director Cheryl Solesbee’s prefacing statement set the success-in-the-face-of-adversity tone of the State of the City reports. Putting it in plain English, Solesbee said, “The world of finance has become extremely challenging over the last five years. When Enron smacked us, transparency became crucial. Five-page reports became 10 pages … The recession was another smack upside the head,” calling for creative budgeting, “looking at how money is used and how to cut costs.”
As the first departmental presenter in this premier process, Solesbee said the State of the City was a unique opportunity to acknowledge departmental feats. The rigors of the regular work day require staff to move on to the next job as soon as one job is completed, she said, so “it is good to be able to list accomplishments.”
Solesbee’s report, covering the last three years, included:
• Established a trust fund with Cal-PERS (funded at $911,318 to date).
• Established two-tier retirement and health benefits system, with city employee bargaining groups.
• Ongoing implementation of a two-year budget; essential to forecast future fund balances, that includes a departmental budget review process to track expenditures and analyze revenue forecasts.
•Implemented the Alternate Retirement System Plan for part-time employees in lieu of Social Security contributions; satisfies federal requirements; provides employee cost-saving and projected city savings of about $12,000 annually.
• Established Section 125 Plan so that employees’ share of medical premiums becomes pre-tax dollars to off-set increase in employees’ co-share of premiums.
• Adopted policy to maintain a 15 percent General Fund reserve cash balance; currently at 37 percent.
• Implemented Workers Compensation Reform; reduces employer costs, expedites medical care for and increases permanent disability benefits to injured workers.
• Implemented Pension Reform (mandates a new pension formula, mostly for 2013 hires, that increases retirement age, reduces costs, caps pensionable compensation, requires a three-year highest-average salary for retirement benefits and allows employers to negotiate cost-sharing of member/employer contribution portions).
City of Bishop Fire Chief and Rural Fire District Chief Ray Seguine’s staff services the city and rural areas and provides services under a Bishop Paiute Reservation contract and U.S. Forest Service and CalFire “agreements to assist.” Seguine reported the following accomplishments:
• Maintains a 41-person staff: one full-time fire chief, three part-time positions (assistant chief, mechanic and radio technician) and 37 volunteers.
• Ongoing update of radio technology; switching all radios to FCC-required narrow-banding by January 2013.
• Provided pre-tax benefits for firefighters (co-op, day care, dental, etc.) through the Staffing Adequate Fire Emergency Response grant.
• Ongoing recruitment and retention, funded by SAFER grant.
• Continues to develop training facility, opened in 2007, as funds become available.
• Obtained two fiberglass, 10,000-gallon draft tanks (donated by Brown’s Supply) to recycle the water used for training and equipment testing purposes.
• Responded to 173 calls to date, 65 within the city.
• Handles an average of 232 calls per year, 71 within the city.
• Operates on current fiscal budget of $230,754, i.e., $50 per capita (down $12,758 from last year).
• Expends 4,000 man-hours annually; 200 per volunteer firefighter, including training and other services.
• Provides public outreach: fire prevention education in schools, Fire Prevention Week activities, etc.
• Maintains up-to-date equipment through split-purchasing (combining city fire, rural fire and/or volunteers’ equipment funds); the brand new Engine 3 purchased at $336,000 obtained with the volunteer firefighters’ Destruction Derby funding.
Police Chief Chris Carter summarized the status of the Bishop Police Department by saying, “Our accomplishments are hard to measure physically but we are still doing the job and doing a great job, with longer hours and less time off. We continue to keep citizens safe.”
• Operates with a reduced staff of only 11 of the 14 officer positions allocated.
• Keeps crime consistently low (currently 28 percent lower than in the past two years).
• Responds to a 20 percent increase in calls for service, all answered, and maintaining a three-minutes-or-less-average call-response time.
• Absorbed a voluntary $600,000 budget reduction over the last two years (equipment, vehicle and personnel cuts).
“We’re all biting the bullet (but) the credit goes, not to me or to the city, but to officers, dispatchers, reserve, part-time and other staff, who recognize that things are tight,” Carter said. “They are doing a fantastic job in spite of these conditions.”
Director of Public Works David Grah’s report included a detailed list of attainments over the past two years:
• Maintains a staff of 10 full-time employees, one vacant part-time field position, one seasonal office student intern position.
• Manages/co-manages 27 program budgets (totaling $1 million to $3 million) and project budgets (totaling $5 million to $10 million).
• Began projects that include: Light Detection and Ranging terrain and structure data acquisition in support of water and sewer projects, other city uses, and potential flood hazard mitigation efforts; Clarke Street/Bishop Creek Canal/Waste Water Treatment Plant sewer trunk line replacement environmental work; Warren Street Improvement funds obtained/environmental work.
• Continuing and updated projects that include: Wye Road Intersection Improvement right-of-way negotiations; Sneden Street Improvements design; Municipal Geographic Information System update; Circulation Element of General Plan (Mobility Element).
• Completed construction projects include: Hanby Emergency and Park Sewer replacements ($212,122); May, Willow and North Third and Church streets water improvements ($545,070); North Second Street and Iris Street water lines ($97,951).
• Completed other work, such as: Pine to Park Path environmental work; Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition implementation (remotely monitors and controls water and sewer systems); contracting preferences implemented on all construction projects and purchases whenever funding sources allow.
• Collaborated: with Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Inyo County Flood Insurance Rate Map update; City of Bishop Energy Action Plan development with Eastern Sierra Energy Foundation; with Eastern Sierra Community Service District on a nitrates-in-groundwater issue near Bishop and ESCSD plants; with Bishop Tree Committee, tree care guidelines/approved street tree list.
Looking ahead, Grah said, “adapting to change and driving change that leads to better service and stewardship will be very important to Public Works … Beneficial change includes adopting new technologies (and) new organizational structures and building cooperative relationships with other agencies.”
Caldwell, who also wears the community services director hat, reported on the department that “adds to the quality of life” in Bishop.
• Maintains a staff of four full-time employees augmented by 80 Friends of the Park volunteers and 50 part-time seasonal employees (life guards, referees, etc.).
• Continues “progressive implementation” of Bishop City Park master plan (Arboretum and Field 5 projects; gazebo upgrade, the new Bishop Dog Park, community garden).
• Provides 48 ongoing city programs over more than 300 days annually (Dive in Movies, Trunk or Treat, Skate Jam, Zumba and self-defense, Eggstravaganza, etc.).
• Provides annual summer camp, adult league volleyball/softball/soccer/basketball and large, “filled-to-capacity” gymnastics program.
• Implemented inaugural Council on Campus in 2011 at Bishop Union High School, accompanied by four $500 BUHS junior and senior scholarships, sponsored largely by local businesses.
• Maintains Sunrise Senior Mobile Home Park for 40 low-income residents, funded by a 30-year grant which ends in November. “We could have sold that property but the council has chosen to continue to operate the mob home park and take care of our residents.”
At the conclusion of the presentations, Caldwell said, “on this, our first State of the City, and hopefully one of many to come, I’d like to thank the previous councils for blazing the trail; our current council and their commissioners for their support; the staff, who are the backbone of the city; our many volunteers; and last but not least, the citizens of Bishop.”
Mayor David Stottlemyre said, “As they take care of the city’s business, the council relies on the city’s department heads to run the city using the policy guidelines we set. It’s a difficult challenge because we are in a realignment period. Basically, we are being told by the state and the feds that things aren’t going to get back to what they used to be. We have to adjust to the way things are now, realign our priorities and goals to meet the challenges of today.”
With City of Bishop department heads and personnel doing more with less, stepping up to the plate and staying the course regardless of current economic challenges, the mayor assured the people of Bishop that “we’re making it work.”

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