Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Communities

January 21, 2011

Reorganization chart shows subtle change in city leadership structure

LOCKPORT — Shifting the city budget director’s duties to the treasurer is among the recommendations of a consultant advising the Common Council on City Hall “reorganization.”

Consultant Richard Rising, an associate of the Harris Beach law firm and a former Geneva, N.Y., city manager, presented a proposed (re)organization chart to the Council on Wednesday.

The chart, which Council President Richelle Pasceri said last week the aldermen wanted to see before acting on any more job-related 2011 budget cuts and additions, shows a changed-up chain of command for 10 city departments. It does not show elimination of any department, nor does it anticipate any additional job cuts beyond the 25 that were effected since November by employee retirement or layoff.

The gist: Fewer chiefs with more work

For Lockport city government, reorganization is the act of grouping similar departments under common senior management, to save time, share resources, improve communication between departments and, in some cases, save money, according to Rising.

For instance, instead of a community development director, a chief assessor and a chief building inspector all reporting separately to the mayor, and all their departments operating independently of one another, reorganization puts those departments and their chiefs under the supervision of a director of planning and development, who answers to the mayor for the performance of all three.

It is the one instance in which reorganization calls for creation of a new management job, but with no net gain in the number of city employees. The director of planning and development, once hired, will do the work of the old community development director, plus business retention/recruitment, plus oversight of the building inspection and assessment departments. The advertised salary for the new director is in the $70,000s range; former Community Development Director Bill Evert’s 2011 projected salary, $76,600, is in the budget so the money’s there to pay his successor.

“Sometimes reorganization doesn’t produce immediate cost savings, but in the long term it increases efficiency, which produces savings,” Rising said.

An element of reorganization that’s been controversial the past week, elimination of the position of the superintendent of streets, parks and refuse, gets elaboration on the chart.

The new public works unit would consist of four divisions all tied to infrastructure: highways, buildings/grounds/parks, water distribution/sewer maintenance and engineering. The would be led by a single department head, the director of engineering and public works. That person is likely to be Norman Allen, current director of engineering also in charge of maintenance and, since superintendent Michael Hoffman was laid off last week, highways and parks. All of the divisions except engineering would have a supervisor/foreman reporting to Allen.

Reorganization: A work in progress

A third substantial reorganizing move, transfer of budget director’s duties out of the city clerk’s office, awaits the retirement of veteran City Clerk/Budget Director Richard Mullaney at the end of this year.

Rising said Mullaney’s departure is an “opportunity” to group budget management with other city departments also concerned with money: accounting/auditing and the treasury, which collects taxes and manages income and debts. The plan would put all three under the supervision of the city treasurer. Who in the division will be the budget director isn’t decided. The treasurer is the only senior manager/department head who doesn’t answer to the mayor or the Council, since he’s elected like they are. Whether the treasurer-as-budget director would create a healthy check and balance or potential chaos hasn’t been debated yet.

The utilities division — encompassing operations of the water, sewer treatment and composting plants — remains as is in the organization chart. Director of Utilities Paula Sattelberg is still in charge.

Instead of imposing reorganization all at once, Rising recommended phasing in changes, partly because some of them are contingent upon veteran employees’ retirements. Then too, he said, gradual reorganization should be more tolerable to remaining employees, if it’s explained well “upfront and everybody is kept in the loop.

“You’re trying to (reshape) this organization for the 21st century,” he said. “Which a lot of organizations don’t do, because they just roll year-to-year.”

The goals: Short- and long-term savings

Reorganization started last year with the 2012 fiscal year in mind, according to Tucker. State aid is assumed to be on the decline and the local tax base is shrinking while city employee pension and health insurance premium costs keep rising by double-digit percentages. The only responses are to raise the tax rate and/or cut spending; and while employees and their benefits account for more than 80 percent of the city budget, administration can only eliminate so many jobs and still continue services, he said. Reorganization involves some downsizing, followed by realignment of departments and management to make better use of remaining staff, he said.

“It’s about finding different ways of getting work done. ... In the long run, we’ll be more efficient; we’ll run leaner and keep taxes from going up as much as our legacy costs,” Tucker said.

Among departments not related to public safety, only youth and recreation was not studied for reorganization, Rising said. In the new chart, it’s a standalone department like the city clerk’s and personnel offices, whose heads all will continue answering to the mayor. The police and fire departments were not studied either, as he was hired to look at non-public safety-related departments only.

Having studied the organization since last summer, Rising told the Council he found it in fairly good shape.

“I don’t see any huge holes or deficiencies (in management),” he said. “The question is how can we increase efficiencies.”

Exploration of a partnership with the Town of Lockport, for a shared assessing department, “is probably on the horizon” after the city assessment roll is updated this spring, Rising said.

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