City's top goal: Cut labor costs

By Terri Harber May 29, 2013 08:34 am

By Terri Harber

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Baker City Councilors stated Tuesday that their most significant goals are to reduce labor costs over the next five years and to create health savings plans for city staff.

They determined what to highlight after working with a facilitator in early April. They prioritized the list of goals during the past two weeks.

“It amazes me ... It doesn’t make any sense. We need to do a little soul searching,” said Mayor Richard Langrell.

He was perplexed about how the councilors were of the same mind about reducing labor costs, yet last week, in approving a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, the budget board “voted for a five-percent increase in labor costs.”

The councilors — along with the other members of the budget board — approved a tentative city budget that adds more than $152,000 to the general fund’s unappropriated ending fund balance instead of eliminating any jobs.

This was achieved by reducing the contingency allocation by $51,000, not fully paying off an interfund loan for a project at the Baker City Municipal Airport by more than $36,000, and not making a general fund contribution to the burial of utility lines under Resort Street of nearly $65,000. The money for Resort Street will come instead from the city’s street fund.

The councilors still must adopt the budget next month.

Langrell, who last week voted against the budget decision along with Councilor Dennis Dorrah, said he wanted to see a direct reduction of about $150,000 in labor costs.

“You won’t find any citizens saying ‘increase labor costs,’ ” Langrell said Tuesday. 

Councilor Barbara Johnson said residents who contacted her about the budget didn’t ask for decreased labor costs, either.

“They do not want emergency personnel positions cut,” Johnson said.

The rest of the goals rounding out the top five are to: look at ways to consolidate public works activities with the county; prepare cost analysis for contracting out city services; and, defer mountain line work to pay for the ultraviolet water treatment plant.

They also plan to (in descending order): support city parks; hold town hall meetings to inform the public about project costs; increase wastewater rates to pay for the planned wetlands project; create annual performance reports; and, sell the city-owned Salmon Creek property.

Not part of the top 10 but also considered important items on the councilors’ to-do list are to ensure all city purchases of $20,000 or more are council-approved (the threshold now is $50,000) and consider ways to foster redevelopment of older business and industrial properties around the city.

The list of goals will be looked over by the city attorney and brought back for a final council vote.  

In other business, the councilors:

• Reported no agreement with the Baker City Employee Association. Possible ratification of a work contract with this employee group was listed on Tuesday’s agenda. Public works department and other City Hall employees not otherwise represented make up this bargaining unit.

 • Adopted the Emergency Operations Plan and National Incident Management System. Councilor Mike Downing reminded residents about the city and county emergency notification system. Visit Baker911.org and click on the Code Red logo inside the blue-green box to register your cellphone to be contacted about local emergencies.

• Authorized temporary parking restrictions for the Baker City Cycling Classic on the weekend of June 29-30. This is Ordinance No. 3700.

 • Accepted the third and final reading of the Sidewalk Utility Fee Ordinance, No. 3318.