Wednesday, May 18, 2011

City Planner, 911, and Benefits

All, I would like to set the record straight on several items that have been posted out there over the last few days. I apologize, but this is a long email.

1. Council pay and benefits – This council has not taken any votes to increase our pay and benefits. The pay increase was done prior to the majority of us being elected. The same as with benefits. There have been various proposals out there to cut council pay, reduce or eliminate benefits and none of those proposals garnered much traction. Two of us have voluntarily taken a pay 10% cut, others pay for all or part of health insurance, some do not participate in the city’s health insurance at all. I would say that this council is receiving less benefits than previous, but I have no evidence to support that claim. Some of you say that we make too much, others say we don’t earn enough. Until council is ready to make any changes with majority vote, I believe the status quo will remain.

2. Planner – The interviews were open to the public, the deliberation was open to the public, the information was available to anyone who wanted to observe. In my mind, both candidates are qualified, but for different reasons. As I indicated Monday night, I liked the Economic Development aspect of one of the candidates over the other. I agree with Ms. Alexander that having your AICP certification was necessary and was part of the job requirements. That being said, I believe that Mr. Cooley will do a fine job and bring a different perspective to our city and take us further along. I hope that council, staff, residents, and business community will give him the benefit of the doubt and agree to work with him to make our city, residential and business communities alike, better than it is today.

3. E911 – Unfortunately, misinformation is running rampant. The agenda cover sheet for E911 said “Choose an effective, affordable E911 Serve Alternative”. The agenda sheet as submitted only gave us two options to consider: 1) Turn E911 Services over to DeKalb County or 2) Issue RFP for private E911 & dispatch services (I.e. ChatComm)

There are some basic questions that needed to be answered before any decision was made.

a. First, is it the intent to eliminate the 12 employees who currently serve as our 911 dispatchers, answer 770-455-1000 non-emergency number, enter GCIC warrant information, inmate bonding, walk-up crime reports, general police/safety questions, etc.?

i. If the answer is yes, eliminate those positions, then what do you do with the work that they do? You have to either eliminate the work or assign it to different personnel. If you can’t assign it to different personnel because of existing workload, specific skills needed, etc., then you need to hire personnel to replace those that have had their position eliminated. Then the question is, how much are you really saving if you have to hire alternative personnel AND outsource the 911 to DeKalb or a 3rd party. Neither of them will do it for free.

ii. If the answer is no, do not eliminate the positions or not all of the positions, then why outsource? You won’t be saving any money, in fact, you will be incurring additional costs.

b. Second, there was no discussion about reducing our existing budget line item because that was not on the agenda as an option. Our options, as provided were limited to the two choices outlined. I think every council member agrees as well as our department heads, that we need to look at every department and make decisions and understand the end result. There are viable options to reduce the E911 budget.

i. One of the options that is viable is to reduce the number of 911 operators down to 1 during non-peak times. Understand that comes with a risk of a caller being put on hold while the dispatcher deals with other calls and officers who are in the queue. We never got to those discussion points because we were dealing with the proposed options that were given to us.

ii. There are line item costs that simply because we have changed insurance brokers will be modified. As an example, Workers Comp. GMA, our previous workers comp provider, didn’t provide us with a breakdown of cost distribution. We received a lump sum bill. Those costs have to be assigned to departments, per council request. But without the risk factors that GMA uses, there was no way to accurately distribute the costs, so workers comp was assigned (this is how it has been done for years) based upon percentage of employees. So, E911, who sit at a desk and type and answer the phone, have a budget line item of $37,820 for workers comp. Public Works on the other hand, who are in the field all day, operating heavy and sometimes dangerous equipment, have a workers comp line item of $47,275. You tell me where the workers comp risk really is? We have since changed brokers and I believe we will, in addition to lower rates, get an actual risk assessment, risk reduction plan, and accurately assign the costs to the appropriate departments. That is one example of where our budget for E911 is artificially inflated and once addressed WILL lower the amount being used to offset operations.

c. Third, there was little information presented on either option.

i. Some basic research on ChattComm shows this “fact sheet”:
Unfortunately the fact sheet is not factual. Under statistics, it says “ChatComm’s operations, technology and facility are supported solely on 911 revenues without any additional city general budget funding”. Sandy Springs, this year, is providing $915,000 from their general fund to offset the costs. Dunwoody is expecting to spend $300,000 + from their General Fund. No information was made available from Johns Creek as to any General Fund revenues being used to offset the costs.

ii. DeKalb County has recently stopped dispatching calls for: animal complaints, noise complaints, and burglaries. Additionally, Dunwoody cited several concerns with DeKalb County as reasons to explore alternative options which were more expensive than the DeKalb 911 proposal.

4. Insurance and Benefits – Staff is actively exploring various options for insurance which, next to payroll, are our biggest line items. We have addressed Workers Comp and our business liability line items and we hope and believe that those numbers will reduce in the coming months, once our new brokers can get their feet wet and implement some new procedures, policies, and get quotes from agencies. The next two are health insurance and retirement benefits.

a. Health – We have been advised that we will have new health insurance options to look at. This council, last year, changed our health insurance plan from a custom program to an off-the-shelf program and saved a significant amount of money. This year I hope that we will look at all aspects of the program, tier benefits based upon dependent status, employee contributions, co-pays, etc.

b. Retirement – This is the last big benefit program that needs to be addressed. At present the city is in a defined benefits program that is antiquated and as Ms. Alexander pointed out, is unfair in that a part-time council person vests immediately, but a police officer, public works employee, library employee, etc. must be employed 10 years before they can vest. I would expect to see this on an upcoming agenda to begin the detailed and complex discussion of looking into a major change in our retirement benefits program that saves the city money, eliminates the 10 year vesting requirement, and allows employees more flexibility in how they handle their retirement funds.

I hope that this helps clarify some of the information that is out there . . answers some questions on what council and staff are doing . and quells some of the rumors that persist.

As always, please let me know if any questions.


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