Baker City Councilors Disagree On Need To Hire New Employees
By Pat Caldwell
Baker City Councilors continue to discuss a draft strategic blueprint for the city's future but one recommendation in the plan - a proposal to hire more public employees - has so far proved to be a non-starter.
The City Council held a public hearing Jan. 14 on the draft strategic plan and delivered comments and guidance to Stan Foster, president of PARC Resources, the Bend-area firm the city hired to do the study.
PARC utilized a community survey, comments collected at local meetings, and suggestions from the City Council to prepare the draft plan.
The draft proposal includes nine goals or "action priorities."
The initiatives run the gamut and include such items as studying the feasibility of the city initiating a visitor center/business incubators along Interstate 84 to the development of a marketing plan to promote the city.
Other items on the list include fostering tax breaks and other incentives to lure employers to the region, parks improvements, and the expansion of a self-contained business association along with funding of infrastructure endeavors.
The draft plan also calls for hiring two full-time and two part-time employees to handle the projected upturn in administrative duties attached to the proposed initiatives.
During Foster's presentation last week, Mayor Richard Langrell scorned the idea of adding more workers to city ranks.
"I think we have enough employees," Langrell said during the Jan. 14 session at City Hall.
While the consensus at the work session appeared to be to address any move to hire more employees on a case-by-case basis - and thus keep the concept out of the strategic plan - at least one councilor believes the current city workforce is too small.
Councilor Mike Downing said the lack of personnel in key city departments is a lingering and unsolved issue.
"I'm not saying load them up. I'm saying let's get enough to do what needs to be done," Downing said.
Downing said personnel shortages in the emergency services ranks - such as the fire and police departments - are serious.
"Our officers cover a lot of calls. Our detectives are running patrol. We have a shortage of police officers, public works staff, firefighters and paramedics," Downing said.
Downing said there is a core of councilors who are opposed to any plan to hire new employees.
"Sometimes I do get frustrated," Downing said. "We are already to the bone yet we are asking them to do the same amount of work or more. We are loading more and more on the (city) staff. Either hire somebody or you got to find a way to lighten the load on the staff you have. That's the issue in my mind."
Councilor Roger Coles said the problem pivots on the general economic situation in Baker City. Property tax revenues are not robust enough to support more city employees, he said.
"The revenues in this community are decreasing. There are not a lot of jobs. We need to utilize what we have more efficiently. There comes a point where you can't afford any more," Coles said.
Councilor Kim Mosier said she believes the Council should carefully consider any proposal to hire new employees.
"I'd like to see a real thorough analysis, what that employee would do and where the money would come from," she said.
She also said a proposal to hire - or not to hire - more employees is a question that doesn't belong on the draft strategic plan.
Baker City Manager Mike Kee said city staffing levels are down from a few years ago, and that this trend has effects.
"I have a fire chief I rarely see because he is on a regular shift because we are short one guy. That's not the best way to handle administrative duties. He goes out and handles calls like everyone else," Kee said.
Yet Kee said so far the number of personnel on the city roster appears to be adequate.
"The (city) staff isn't overloaded. We've been maintaining staffing levels, maintaining the services we provide. As a manager I will make it work with the resources I'm given," he said.
For Downing the issue is one of simple mathematics. If elected leaders want to accomplish certain citywide goals, then they must ensure the city has the resources it needs, including employees.
"We have council members who want less people but want the same end product," he said.
Downing said the shortage of personnel in the city's emergency services ranks is the most troubling. He said he is developing a plan to help educate other councilors on what the implications of fewer emergency services personnel means.
"I'm going to visit with other council members to try to get them to do ride-alongs with the police, fire department," he said.