In the midst of budget deliberations, the members of Saline City Council have another report to consider.
Monday evening, Michelle Ferguson presented Novak Consulting Group’s study of the city’s organization. The study came with 53 recommendations to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and capacity of the city’s operations. Several of those recommendations involved the creation of new positions within city government. In all, the study recommends six new positions that, if implemented, could cost the city an additional $700,000 annually.
While Ferguson said implementation was important, she said it will be up to city staff and city council to prioritize the recommendations and develop a timeline for implementation.
Mayor Brian Marl said he believed studies like the one provided by Novak are important endeavors that are “indicative of organizations who strive for excellence.” He said the city should engage in such studies once a decade and said this study was probably overdue. At the conclusion of the discussion, he said the study confirmed what he already believed.
“This is a very lean organization without much waste,” Marl said.
While some aspects of Novak’s study appeal to the Mayor, he had difficulty with the idea of adding six new full-time positions to city government.
“Personally, I think a goal of the city should be to maintain our reduce our general millage rate,” Marl said. “For that, two things have to transpire. We must continue our policy of smart growth and economic diversity. The second thing is we need the regional, state and national economy to continue to grow.”
Marl believes there are signs the economy is slowing – making it even harder to swallow the idea of adding six new employees.
“While I think this is a well-vetted analysis, one of my concerns is the ramifications of adding six new full-time employees. That’s something I’m struggling with. I can’t sugarcoat that.”
Novak’s recommendations go beyond adding jobs.
Novak’s team met with 50 city staff members and consulted with 80 city employees. The report did not include the police department, which had its own organization review a couple years ago.
The City of Saline has grown more than 15 percent since 2000 – despite the “Great Recession.” A strong housing market in Washtenaw County should continue to make growth likely in Saline. The city is planning for growth. The city is soon to adopt its Vision 2024 strategic plan. Ferguson told city council this organization report should dovetail with the city’s plan.
Is the city organization prepared for growth?
Ferguson said that while the city staff is engaged, energetic and dedicated, it’s somewhat overworked. It’s also an older staff with many close to retirement age – meaning the city could lose a lot of knowledge without careful succession planning.
One of the key organizational recommendations was to remove human resources work from the city manager’s job description. Ferguson said the city manager said having the city manager handle human resources, including discipline, is likely not sustainable and perhaps not even appropriate. While she said many recommendations can be implemented as staff and council see fit, she suggested it might be advantageous to implement an HR director sooner than later. Ferguson said human resources departments have evolved from the days of payroll and benefits.
“HR has evolved. It’s the keeper of the culture in an organization,” Ferguson said.
Answering a question from Councillor Dean Girbach, she explained that she saw succession planning as perhaps the most serious vulnerability of the city, and suggested an HR position could help preserve knowledge and retain employees.
Novak is also suggesting the creation of a communications assistant whose job it would be to communicate within the city organization and to the public.
Another series of recommendations involves the creation of a Community Development Department. It would be lead by an assistant city manager/community development director. This department would include planning, permits, code compliance, and the business ambassador’s position. While the money may not yet be there to add positions, Mayor Marl liked the idea of the community development department.
“I see everything through the lens of economic development, so the deal of creating a division of government to work in this area appeals to me,” Marl said.
Other recommendations came in the Department of Public Works. First, the engineering position would be moved into the DPW. Novak also recommends creating a DPW Deputy Director and adding a maintenance/mechanic position. Novak also suggests the city should create a formal service level agreement between parks and recreation and the DPW.
The other possible position could be in the parks and recreation department. Ferguson said the department’s workload was at capacity and that adding to their workload would require more employees.
Throughout the departments, Novak recommends facility needs assessments to stay on top of critical infrastructure and maintenance needs.
It appears unlikely this report will have much influence on the current budget deliberations. The budget is typically approved in early June and Mayor Marl, and Councillors Linda TerHaar and Jack Ceo are about to travel to Saline’s sister city, Brecon, Wales.